LiveJournal recently announced the launch of a writing contest in India, in collaboration with Caferati*, a community for writers. Livejournal has a fairly small but highly involved base in India – 5000 unique visitors a month, 13000 registered users.

MediaNama spoke to Benjamin Wegg-Prosser, Director of Corporate Development, SUP and Rajesh Lalwani, founder of BlogWorks, the social media consultancy LiveJournal is working with, to get an sense of why LiveJournal chose to focus India, and how they’re planning to grow the user base.

Why A Writing Contest, instead of a celebrity blog, rewards program or an ad campaign?
Ben: We thought a lot about the first thing to do when we came to India, with the team from BlogWorks; we came back to first principle -LiveJournal, anywhere is the world, is a platform for words, generally the written word. Of course, there are many different things to do – and we may well do them later, but we wanted to start with engaging with what we know our community is most comfortable with. This also allows us to engage with those already on LiveJournal, and potential new users.

What are you expectations from the contest?
Ben: We would like significant boost in the number of people who are reading LiveJournal, more signups and obviously, as many people to enter the contest. At this stage, it’s very difficult to put a number on it, but this is a project that has long term value, and can grow of its own accord. In case of an advertising capaign, you need to do something after that. You get a contest going, and it will snowball.
Rajesh: One of the key objectives of the contest is also to seed very effectively, the India Writing community. India Writing is the first such meaningful community that we are hosting on LiveJournal. You will see similar communities being seeded.

Once the contest is over, the community dissipates – so will it be a recurring contest?
Ben: That’s exactly why we will hope that other things come from this. We also believe that in India, there is a market for self publishing. So we’re trying to seed a new community, something which we’ve done in Russia to some extent, but not in the US.
Rajesh: The livejournal community is small, but very very involved with the product. We have taken feedback into many of the things we’re planning to do, and we believe they’ll become the key constituents and take the initiatves.

Could you clarify the numbers – the release mentions 900,000 impressions per month, 5000 monthly unique users and 13000 registered users. Whereas, you’ve yourself mentioned in a post in July has a different number
Ben: That’s because our statistics engine has improved and we’ve got better statistics out.We’re doing a number of different things there – we’re now able to service targeted advertising to IP addresses, and are working with a global advertising network, and will be able to serve advertising to specific Indian IP addresses.

Why India? You’ve actually got more registered than monthly unique visitors from India. The situation looks bleak…
Ben: We’ve not started from scratch in India – we have some people who use LiveJournal. If you take Singapore, we’re ranked as the 10th or 11th largest website; we’ve never done any work in Singapore, but have a reasonably strong position. In our international expansion for LiveJournal, we want to select markets where we have a good position, and we also wanted to choose a market where we have a small number of loyal users.
We feel the market in India is right for growth in self publishing, the growth of people using the web, the growth of literacy, that English language is significant, and India has such a vibrant way of discussing and debating and arguing over issues about politics, the culture, the news, the arts, the economy – we felt it is suitable for LiveJournal. I don’t view it as being bleak – it’s certainly a challenge, but it’s important for us as a business to be able to try and grow in completely new markets.


Those coversations are taking place across several other platforms. What will make people switch?
Ben: It’s not necessarily about switching – plenty of people are coming online. It’s certainly common for people to have multiple accounts. But there are two key different – one that it is about content, and secondly, it’s about communties – people building content around a common interest. It’s about combining the rich content of blogging, with the social functionality of a network.
We’ve already seen something like that by other networks like BigAdda, Ibibo…
Ben: The market is certainly big enough. Our difference would be around the quality of writing and access to a global network.

Are you looking to get Indian content providers, like Newspapers and Magazines? Any plans for bringing International media parternsips to India?
Ben: In May we met with newspaper groups and online portals, and discussed with them potential partnerships. Currently we’re working on our own with the team with BlogWorks, and we’ll be looking at what sort of partnerships we can form with people in the Autumn. In Russia, we form very close relationships Newspapers and international organizations like the BBC and New York Times. In terms of bringing those partnerships to India – that’s for the future.

What do you expect to have achieved by the time you’re here in September?
Ben: Significant, in terms of registration and pageviews, and to have certainly seeded the writing community. We will be looking to raise LiveJournals profile.

What kind of money are you looking to invest in India?
Ben: We’ve invested a small amount of money in terms of travel, and our local partnership. We’re taking an incremental step-by-step approach. I can’t give you a figure.

You have a marketplace and a giftshop for the Russian site. What kind of targets would you need to meet before you launch similar initiatives in India?
Ben: The next phase will be to have localised services, which we’re currently working on. We haven’t got specific figures in terms of publishing, but we want to see significant growth. From that, it will lead to more regionalized products and services…Russia is a market were LiveJournal is most advanced – we have a series of verticals, e-commerce platform, gift shop, a mobile services. These are all things we have done in Russia, and obviously, we have ambitions to do this in other parts of the world.

In terms of localization of the product?
Ben: localized ratings, features where you can see who is reading your journal. We have localized statistics, the most popular posts of the day. We’re currently rolling these out into the US, and will roll them out in India when it is appropriate.

How many Premium account users do to you have in India?
Ben: It would be a handful in India at the moment. Worldwide, we have just over 100,000. So it is an important revenue stream for us. A majority are in the US. In Russia and the UK, it’s a relatively small number as well. In Japan, it’s a small number, but high relative to the total number of users.
So it will mostly be about advertising in India?
Ben: We’ll have to see how the Indian market evolves, but as you say – we’re seeing this more as an advertising platform more than a subscription based model. We will launch advertising here up and running within the next month.
Any plans for launching +SOL or Victory SA to launch in India?
Ben: At the moment, they’re Russian businesses, and I don’t see them being launched in India.

Your plans for Indian languages? Transliteration?
Ben: We have translation communities all over the world…we already have Hindi community, and I believe around 10 percent of LiveJournal has already been translated into Hindi.
Any plans for acquisitions in India?
Not at the moment.

Some Post-Interview Thoughts: Writing contests are not new to India – Sulekha, the Oxford Bookstore, Kala Ghoda and Verve Magazine have all held writing contests. LiveJournal currently appears to be just seeding the community – not investing big, but in smaller, more focused initiatives. This will help generate discussions, and hopefully, even debate…a debate is always more charged and involving than a discussion. One should expect a number of these small initiatives, perhaps related to Music, Films, Television, Sports and Politics, to help seed communities and discussion around these. Note that LiveJournals Content+Community model will also face competition from the likes of WordPress. Do read Om Malik’s take on Why Blogs Need To Be Social.

Disclosure: I’m member of Caferati on Ryze, and infrequently attend their Delhi Read-Meets