More than a month ago, when Bengaluru only had 2,500 Covid-19 cases a day, I had the opportunity to interview Chirdeep Shetty, who is CEO of Quintype, a Bengaluru headquartered software company that powers some of the largest national and regional publishers such as BloombergQuint, Vikatan, Prabhat Khabar and many others. It is backed by Quintillion Media and IIFL Wealth – neither of whom are involved in its day to day operations.
There is a long history of news publishers investing in technology companies. Often, the technology subsidiary feels that its development work can have a broader market than just its publisher investor. As Chirdeep Shetty told us, this was exactly what happened with Quintype, which developed the software for the digital platforms of Quint and Bloomberg Quint and then grew into a news industry software multi-channel solution provider.
Shetty began, “We started about five years ago as a tech subsidiary of The Quint. We developed the editorial solution for the Quint and Bloomberg-Quint platforms. And early on, we made a pitch to the management to widen the company’s scope to address the publishing industry as a whole, especially in India.
“A bit of research showed there were two kinds of publishers – the ones who used the heavy-duty publishing systems from global vendors and the others who used open-source software and do it yourself solutions. Open-source software works quite well for many publishers, but many plugins are needed to do all the things that a news publisher wants or needs. And these plugins have not really been tested working together.
“The large majority of these publishers depend on the open-source WordPress platform, but it was not built for the media industry. We started to look at what else needs to be there. And as we saw the opportunity amongst the relatively smaller and mid-sized publishers, we wanted to be the AWS (Amazon Web Services) of media.”
I think to myself, “Where have I heard that before?” Practically every meeting I have with an MD or CEO these days leads to the interviewee aspirationally mentioning Amazon or AWS. I give Shetty my impression of the current situation. “It seems that Indian newspapers have partly woken up and are taking the digital transition more seriously. They have been complacent because of their somewhat steady print ad revenues, but the Covid-19 pandemic has been a bit of a wake-up call, and this could be the comeback of publishing technology.
“As a WordPress user myself and from other recent interactions, I can see the possibilities of using the web CMS to print pages. WordPress has a lot of what the publishing guys used to sell and said several times recently that I believe that ultimately, the journalists are going to have to do everything. In the Wan-Ifra SEO (search engine optimization) online course, I saw that the young journalists are not phased by tech. They see that to survive, they may have to embrace multiple editorial and multi-channel tech roles.”
Although Shetty has put off the video to preserve our bandwidth, I can imagine him nodding in agreement. At least he is polite enough not to disagree openly. He continues with the Quintype story, “It took us two years to build the first version of Quintype. Then we started looking at what we could make on top of it. There was a massive increase in traction on our owner-customer’s platforms. At the same time, our vision was that the news publishers should not have to do the tech or have a big team for technology or even SEO.
“We started to improve the publishing workflow by adding seemingly little things. Like how to give a guest contributor secure access to the CMS so that they should see only their own story. Or how to make a story remain at the top of the page over time – or look at the trending stories over time.
“We started looking at what more we could build on top. Subscription management was a big issue, and publishers were going in for opinion pieces and user feedback. There was a significant set of publishers, such as financial dailies and medical journals, going for subscriptions. We built a subscription module with several options, such as buying one article if you like. Other features, like flexible paywalls. We could offer deals for daily active users, weekly active users, and monthly active users. Very loyal visitors can be given deals for engagement.
We could easily connect the platforms with all types of payment solutions, including mobile payments in Africa. All these features were a one-click install – Lego blocks – take whatever pieces you want now and later add more and keep building.
“Over a period of time, we built a commenting platform because platforms like Facebook will never share their data. You will never be able to get data out of Facebook, and the social media feedback could never be analyzed.
“We understood that for the publisher, the content should be the differentiator and not the big investment in technology. We told our customers and prospects, ‘You are not likely to even see the server, but you will have the same infrastructure as any big company or publisher anywhere in the world.’”
“And then we thought, why not make what we are doing for the smaller publishers as well. Publishers like Bloomberg-Quint can spend lakhs on designing their websites, but many worthwhile smaller publishers have various motivations and ideas about their markets that can be viable.
“We created Pagebuilder where smaller publishers can broadcast immersive stories, and we provided a different type of modules on page builder. You can change your templates, for instance, if you want to write an immersive story.”
I get the drift, and I tell Shetty that from recent webinars and other interactions, I have learned that paywalls and their accompanying digital marketing are significant efforts and can be expensive. He addresses this concern, “We could build paywalls in a couple of hours, including the integration of the payment set up. And, with the right kind of tools, publishers can act out their community activities. For instance, during the Kerala floods, we came up with a solution for raising funds by crowd-sourcing. For local communities or specific high-quality content, we have solutions. People are not going to pay for commodity news.”
I am suitably impressed as Shetty tells me that Quintype manages the entire backend for its customers, including the servers and all other technical issues and even some quasi editorial and tech issues such as SEO. He says, “We can also manage the bandwidth for high loads by instantly distributing the bandwidth and servers. As a publisher, you should not be concentrating on CMS or technology. You can focus on the content and relationships.”
He tells me several other technical details that make Quintype’s software and services robust. I am somewhat convinced. I dare to ask, what does all this cost?
Shetty is ready to be quoted on the costs (this is already a departure from other publishing system vendors). We charge Indian Rupees 5,000 a month for platforms up to 50,000 page views a month. We look at subscriptions to start with at Rupees 3,800 a month. We use a lot more of our servers and bandwidth for our more prominent publishers, so we charge them more. The smaller publishers get the same features that Quint and Bloomberg Quint get, but only because the scale or bandwidth is less the price is much lower.
Wow! How many customers do you have, what is your footprint?
Shetty is upfront, “We have 70 customers currently, of which 35 are smaller with pageviews of between 50,000 and 1 million page views monthly. The one to ten million page views customers are in the middle range, and if you have over 10 million pageviews, you are a large publisher. For instance, in Bangladesh, Prothom Alo has just gone live with our system, and they have over 200 million page views in a month.