Tuesday, May 27, 2008

What makes Chetan Bhagat a Success

Chetan Bhagat recently (8th May) launched his third book titled 'The 3 Mistakes of My Life'. Is it a success ? If sales are your primary criteria, then yes! His first two books 'Five Point Someone' and 'One Night @ the Call Centre' sold over 7 lakh copies. While this book sold two lakh copies in the first two days of the launch! [Source]

What we'll attempt to do in this post is break down this success into parts, so that it makes sense.

The Book

Remember, this is the 3rd book by Chetan Bhagat (CB). So the story is spelt out quite differently for the launch. Expectations for the new book are defined by the previous experiences with the author, which have been quite encouraging for readers. There have been others who tried to emulate his success - like Joker in the Pack. These have not succeeded. In fact, it was a pain to unearth their book titles. They just didn't deliver.

Of course book number 3 can't purely ride on the success of the previous books or the hype associated with the launch. Yash Raj's movie Tashan provides an excellent analogy for "Overpromise and Underdeliver." The reviews for the movie (online and WOM) were so vile that it sank within 3 weeks. The hype won't ever be a substitute for the book.

The reviews for the book over the last 2 weeks have been satisfactory. Given the positive vibes for this release, sales should match or exceed that of the previous books.

CB will be conquering the 'Pop Curve' - which Seth Godin depicts in this graph above. The curve to the right caters to a bigger market - the people who don't want to try things too edgy or focussed - a wide set of customers who want to read books that are good (not necessarily great) and don't really want to get into make specific choices (jargon: dissonance reducing behaviour). John Grisham is another example of an author riding the right curve, while Jhumpa Lahiri would definitely be on the left.

(On a different note, I find the music business in India to be focusing solely on the right curve. There aren't any niche artists at all.)

The Author


Chetan Bhagat has a cheerful and chubby face. Seriously - you don't expect an IITian to look this smart. In fact, when I googled IITian, one of the first pictures turned out to be of another IIT-IIMA guy. This one is more stereotypical and realistic!

(I don't know who this guy is. Guy, if you are reading this, you're welcome :D )

Hmm....Like I was saying, apart from writing a good book, CB has made sure India discovers more about him as a person. A dozen references to his IIMA wife and twin kids on the media and soon he doesn't seem like a distant author at all - instead what is conceived is an image of an aspiring IITian who has found his calling for writing books relevant to Indians. So any Big Bazaar customer with an additional hundred in his pocket, a soft corner for CB and with even substandard reading habits will think "Why not! I'll try out his book now!!"

Though I admit that's not the only way. you can emulate Melvin Udall and be a prick, but CB's strategy is definitely better! Some of his quotes which support my argument.

“I started writing when I was in class 5, and in those days, seeing your name in print used to be a big thing. Since then, this desire to become an author was there inside me,”
"Hey, one more thing. I am Chetan Bhagat, and I just want to be known and remembered as that.”

"What I want to do is entertain people, and I want to do it by writing nothing serious or highbrow."
[source]

Beyond the Book

There are two key elements in for the explosive sales for the new book.
  • Pricing it at 95/-
  • A tie-up with Big Bazaar for greater reach
I am sure the J.K Rowling route of pricing books at ten times this price has some logic behind it. But they suffered a loss of over 40% sales due to pirated copies. As a contrast, books priced below 100 will hardly have a piracy market. (I am quite astonished that music CD's are still priced in India in the range of Rs 300-500/-)

The tie-up with Big Bazaar has turned out to be a symbiotic extravaganza. The book launches have been planned with sessions for Book Reading and Meet-the-Author. Shake hands, get a signed copy of the book - and turn into loud megaphones for the book. Its perfect. Of course, by the time the 5th author tries the same stunt....

CB also started blogging around 3 weeks prior to the launch. (This is much better than the Aamir, BigB, Salman crap). It talks about his reasons for writing the new book, his style of writing, the book launch schedule - same ingredients mentioned above: the book, the author and going beyond the book.

To sum it up,

1. Maintain a quality level to please your book reader (critics and literature knights can go to hell!)
2. Give them a reason / lower their hesitation for trying out the product (in this case the pricing of the book)
3. Look beyond being just an author - be a whole person to your reader - online and offline.
4. Be visible - people want to know more so that they can talk more about the same to their peers.
5. Hope for the best!

p.s: I know this should be followed by a normal review of the book (looking beyond Chetan Bhagat's face to judge it :D). I'll have that in the next post!

13 comments:

  1. Nice analysis!! I've not read it yet but I hope it will be better than the 2nd. The 2nd was totally over rated and over hyped.

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  2. i would add one more reason, the protagonists resemble the prospective readers,
    1. a book about iitians: yes! every iitian would pick up and atleast give it a read, if only to snobbily broadcast a critical attack on the lack of literary value on the book's part
    2. a book about call center employees, late night workers, wouldn't harm them to shell out 90 bucks for a read on the way to work about people like them too!

    another thing about these two particular kind of audience is that word of mouth spreads pretty fast in these circles, one doesn't have to popularise anything once it becomes a must do in your peer group...

    don't know much about his new book, i wonder if it follows the pattern too...

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  3. I thought, "aah a non-marketing blog from Iyer at last", but it turned out that the transformation from a consultant to a marketer is complete :D

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  4. Pricing it at 95/- and being able to successfully advertise that is a master stroke.

    Great analysis - and I agree about the Pop-passion "void" (rather than gulf) for the Indian music industry. Virtually no niche music at all! Had I not been in KGP, I might have missed out on Indian Ocean and the like completely!

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  5. Nice. You have bettered.

    I don't read CB exactly for the same reasons I didn't want to join IIT for. Substandard. Too common.

    Only to realise later IIT was a different ballgame.

    But yes, pricing at 95 and piracy. Very interesting observation. How can a guy who studied architecture think? I am amazed.

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  6. ... hmmm MBA has changed you a lot....a lot of references.. and Marketing fundas... still .. Good writings....

    PS - i dotn like CB

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  7. Nice analysis!

    One more factor that I think contributed to his success was -

    He seemed to be 'one of us' (and not like another writers who were of hi-fi kind) ... and this is restricted not to IIT/ IIMs, but in general all engineers and many wanna-be-engineers, the tempo initially set by his first novel!

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  8. CB is a marketing genius rather than an author...hes the pioneer in those highly educated guys having delusions that they can actually write....ofcourse then we had stupid books like if god was a banker, watch out we are mba and what not.

    the iim aspirant market is huge and this guy can serve more people than IMS! also people who cant get into IIMA(thats 99.98 percent of CAT takers ) , people who think these guys earn crores of rupees and in general the entire public who is in awe of the iim brand considers making this purchase...

    i think even you should piggyback (more) on the IIML brand though its not as big as IIMA.

    btw...have you seen the college days song by that IIMA guy ? it isnt rocket science that he picturized the song in IIMA! why not his engg college ? or junior college?

    piggybacking is common and marketing is just jargonized common sense!

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  9. Alright..
    I can see a lot of CB haters here..But honestly..give the guy a break. All this is a marketing strategy but its not something very different from what he did when his first book was released (that time..he was unknown, those kind of books were unknown and even his book was priced the same) For starters he had a blog, quite a private one that too..which he removed after he became popular cause the pictures from his blog were being used by the media. (i know for a fact cause I used to visit that blog) And after his book was a success Crossword did have a book reading session..so its not like the first time and a big marketing plan or something. These things are normal with most book launches..in the end the book works only if people read it or buy it or appreciate it..
    If someone wrote something honest/straight from the heart/ cheesy/filmy if you want to call it that.. and it becomes a success half of us become criticising vultures and try to rip it apart. Do you realize that the book has encouraged a lot of people to read? I know a few people who haven't read a book except for 'five point someone'. Give the credit to guy..if he writes for the common man so be it.

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  10. Hm. Interesting perspective but I still wouldn't agree with the analysis and comparison between HP copies and CB's novels. It seems be from a myopic point of view.I personally think his books aren't worth the paper they are printed on but what the hell - to each,his own!

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  13. Hope he will be using best pricing strategies of marketing concept.

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