chandamama Geodesic-owned Chandamama has stepped up its online presence by adding more language interfaces. The site can now be viewed in 5 Indian languages – Marathi (named Chandoba), Kannada ,Tamil (Ambulimama),  Hindi and Telugu versions.

The launch of stand-alone language sites is expected to attract rural users who are catching up to the online phenomenon, the company said. While we are skeptical about how many are really there, considering that there are barely 13.54 million Internet (dial up, not broadband) users in India as of March 2009, it will benefit those in cities read comics in their native languages online. If Digital Chandamama does want to tap new readers in rural markets, it may have to launch more mobile-focused services – growth of wireless connections in C-class cities grew 71.3% year on year in July 2009 compared to July 2008.

While the language interface is not nearly a blanket, with words such as “shopping” and “contests”, “free SMS”, “archive” etc standing out in English, it suffices.

User’s Area, Fun Zone, Explore, Contests

Though poorly named, this section allows users to send their contributions to Chandamama via an SMS to 54646. These are called posts and the ten latest contributors are displayed on the homepage. The posts themselves are not directly accessible.

Fun Zone has craft projects and an online contest section allows users to write in posts or submit their drawings online. There is no provision for transliteration, which should be introduced to make the website a more complete Indic language portal. An infotainment section called Explore has slideshows to teach users about the animal kingdom and other subjects. Games are to be introduced soon.

Free SMS

Chandamama’s new site also offers a free SMS service through Mundu, its suite of chat software. The free SMS is simpler than others offered by Indyarocks etc, in that it does not require a login, you can send your message to multiple numbers (ten mobile numbers) and can write up to 300 characters.

The service’s terms and conditions states the user must be atleast 18 years of age. This is opposite what the registration process of the website permits – users have to choose a birth year after 1992. So is the user above or below 18 years?

Ad Archives Now Online

Our favourite part of Chandamama’s digital avatar is the archives section, a veritable gold mine where you can choose and read Chandamama editions printed over 2 decades (1950s to 1970s) in seven languages online with a pain-free, minimalistic interface.

ad

For old readers, advertisements in Chandamamas and other comic books of that generation were enjoyable as they continued the same style as the comics – some had stories in them, others were attractive, inviting readers to respond by sending wrappers to receive gifts. The new website now has all these ads online, in their original languages. Ads as old as Telugu edition, July 1947  (when Chandamama was established) are online. What a treat!

Challenges

Choosing The Right Format: While Chandamama has avoided the problem of which format to offer the comics in (the popular one is .CBZ, which requires a comic book reader software, PDFs are also available) by using a browser-based interface, it does not offer a download option, which is a big let down. At the shop, it allows users to purchase a copy that is shipped home.

Limited Online Strategy: A comprehensive online strategy is in order and publishers should attempt to harness the digital medium for all its worth, offer more digital delivery options and subscriptions, engage users of all ages and create a buzz with apps and games. To draw interest in the new publications, publishers will need to focus on marketing and advertising on other portals, especially gaming and social networking websites.

Devices: Chandamama faces a bigger challenge in adapting comics to devices other than computers. A mobile-friendly format would be the way to go with the burgeoning number of rural mobile subscribers, but digital comics are yet to break into this market. Virgin attempted mobile comics but they were not popular. More recently, ACK Media tied up with Vodafone Essar to launch audio books, illustrated comics, ringtones and wallpapers  for mobiles. Others are attempting to offer digital comics on iTunes Store for iPhones and smartphones. However, worldwide, this has not yet taken off and neither has it in India. Laptops and netbooks are rising in popularity in the country so digital comics will probably be read on such devices.

Lack Of Awareness: Publishers are still facing slow traction in this market,and are looking to animation and TV to utilise their content. Digital comics are not yet popular in India, though old, pirated copies are shared using file hosting services. But this is mostly amongst the older generation – anime, cartoons and TV series have overtaken comics online – are they too outdated for the digital lifestyle?

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