Nelson Mandela rightly said, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” Celebrating the power of regional vernacular languages, NewsHunt, the Bangalore-based startup brings together news from 100+ regional newspapers in 12 languages such as Hindi, Tamil, Malayalam, Marathi and a large collection of regional language ebooks on your mobile device.
Based on the simple belief that everyone should be able to read, write and transact on the device of their choice in their favourite language, NewsHunt addresses the problem of the absence of regional content on mobile devices.
Virendra Gupta, Founder & CEO, VerSe Innovation (Newshunt)
“Our platform was launched in June 2009 to solve this problem at the application level in a small mobile footprint, and to make it work on all phones whether it supported the language or not,” said Virendra Gupta, Founder and CEO, VerSe Innovation (NewsHunt).
According to Gupta, the readership of local language newspapers is significantly higher as compared to English dailies. Hence, it was natural to evolve to NewsHunt as mobile data got better and better. The product also caught on popularity with people away from their hometowns looking to connect to their roots.
NewsHunt has catered to 50 million users in the last four and a half years. The users consume content amounting to over 1.5 billion news stories each month. Since the launch earlier this year, NewsHunt has had more than three million books downloaded and read through the app.
The startup is funded by Matrix Partners, Omidyar Network, and Darby overseas investments.
It started as an application for feature phones of Java and Symbian and is now available on all mobile platforms. It comes pre-installed on several Android, Java and Symbian devices such as Nokia Asha phones. NewsHunt has integrated with over 100 news publishers and it is working with close to 150 regional language book publishers with some global players as well. It also provides news from Bangladesh and some countries in Africa. The range of books available on the platform spans from fiction to travel and adventure. It also offers magazine articles for individual sale.
Bridging the payment gap
Paying online still remains a big challenge in the country due to poor penetration of cards. In order to make hassle-free online payments, the startup has a micro-transaction platform called iPayy, which enables one to pay using the existing mobile connection and the product purchase gets added to their cell phone bill. It has tied up with all the major carriers to facilitate online payments.
NewsHunt also serves as an ad platform. The additional revenue is generated through the sale of books and magazines.
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Rise of numerous news aggregator apps
The increased expansion of the online medium has led to the birth of many apps similar to NewsHunt on the Android and iOS platforms such as News360, Readwhere, Pulse etc. Flipboard still remains the popular destination for news and updates from around the world. With limitations of time and attention of the user, the content is being packaged into smaller and innovative bites by all the players.
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However, Gupta feels that NewsHunt is different from all the other platforms. “The biggest differentiator is the support for Indian regional languages and access to the wealth of content that we have. Our news reading experience is also differentiated from other news aggregators where because of our partnership with our content providers, we are able to give complete stories (unlike RSS-based providers), and able to optimise the experience for the user,” claimed Gupta.
“Our product stands out through our support for the lowest end mobile devices all the way to expensive smartphones,” he added.
Lack of standardised tools to create Unicode content
The problems that NewsHunt encounter fall on both creation and consumption sides of the Indian language content.
“The industry (both news and books) still lacks standardised tools, fonts and practices for creating Unicode content. As a result, we need convertors and translators that can transcode as well as package it tightly so that we don’t use too much bandwidth,” Gupta stated.
He added that,“We work with the assumption that most of the phones in the market don’t support Indian languages. As a result, we have built a renderer that can render complex script of Indian languages on any mobile device where NewsHunt is installed. We have even solved it for the web, where we show fonts as bitmapped images so that the mobile user can still view the content even if the device does not support that language or font.”
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Mapping the neighbouring countries
The startup is currently focussed on building books ecosystem, which is highly fragmented but presents a large-scale opportunity. “We may explore additional categories in future,” Gupta said.
NewsHunt is currently live in Bangladesh, and some part of the traffic comes from neighbouring markets as well. “We may add these countries to the mix, but no immediate plans as of now,” he concluded.