Daastan: Redefining the Foundations of Pakistan’s Publishing Industry

Pakistan’s publishing industry is operating offline. Editors, book agents and publishing houses are few in number, making it difficult for young people to get their work across to a large audience.

According to the ISBN International, there are only 2,277 registered publishers all over Pakistan whereas in the USA alone, there are more than 400,000 publishers.

One can clearly see that we have a lot to do to generate global best sellers from the talent in Pakistan. Writers in Pakistan have to invest around 100,000 PKR to get their work published. Editing, marketing, distribution and generating sales are yet other challenges that make publishing in the country virtually impossible.

This is where Daastan helps emerging writers to get their work published on Qissa, which is Pakistan’s first self-publishing platform.

Daastan’s story begins when an aspiring writer, Syed Ommer Amer, went out to the market to get his work published. Saddened by the state of affairs of Pakistan’s literary industry, he decided to do something to create a platform for emerging writers, like him, to showcase their work. After working tirelessly, he laid the foundation of Daastan in December 2014.

His startup, Daastan, was one of the 15 startups that knocked out around 1,500 plus startup ideas to secure a place in Plan9 (5th Cycle). The first step was to build a freelance marketplace for Pakistani writers and connect them with paid writing opportunities.

He worked hard and sustained a freelance marketplace model that has recruited 73 writers to date. The platform caters to five permanent clients who pool in a large amount of work on a daily basis. However, the platform is still being operated in a closed beta version. According to the details made public by the team, the bottom line of the cash flow is positive.

Daastan has now turned into a profitable small business currently accelerated by Telenor Velocity. The platform has two wings: Publishing and Freelance. The team is reinvesting the profits of the freelance wing to scale their publishing wing.

Qissa is a localized version of Amazon’s Createspace. The platform enables Pakistani writers to avail print-on-demand within Pakistan. Writers can sign up on this platform, upload their work via the dashboard, and receive a review from an editor within a week. Once the work is approved by an editor, it gets published and is shareable across multiple platforms.

Since August 2016, Daastan has published around 100 authors in 12 genres. The published work has been read over 50,000 times with an average reading time of five minutes.

Daastan does not only mentor the writers on issues related to publishing, but also helps them build an online readership and get invaluable critique from the editorial team of Daastan. Out of the 2,000 writers signed up on the Qissa website, many have had their interviews published on TV, radio and magazines.

Work published by Daastan qualifies as an e-book, has an ISBN number, and can be accessed in libraries.

Under Qissa, Daastan has also conducted two successful seasons of themed short story writing competitions under the name, ’The Stories Untold’. In the Season 1 (May’16-Jul’16), the platform received 80 submissions out of which 25 were chosen for publishing.

Based on the phenomenal impact of the first season, Daastan received a $5000 grant (in two installments) from the US Institute of Peace to scale up its operations. The Season 2 (Nov ’16-Jan ’17) of The Stories Untold competition received 150 submissions out of which seven authors were from India. One of the Indian authors was published in the local print newspaper in India.

Out of the 150 contributions which were received, a total of 38 were published. There were 30 English short stories and 8 Urdu short stories.

The Season 3 is coming up on May 23, 2017. Follow Daastan’s page for more details.

Daastan goes one step ahead and helps writers publish hard copies of their work through creative crowd funding campaigns which are used to cover the printing costs. They have successfully completed two campaigns and raised around 100,000 PKR for two authors. A dozen more campaigns are on going on the platform.

Daastan conducted their first ever book launch of Tooba Arshad’s work few months back in Nest I/O. The next book launch of Laiba Sehrish – Daastan’s fastest crowd funded author is scheduled in Peshawer in Jun’17.

The freelance wing brought annual revenue of $13,000 in 2016 and $4,000 in 2017 so far.

Currently Daastan’s main revenue stream is their freelancing wing via which it connects its writers to local and international businesses looking for writers to generate content for them. This ‘localized freelance marketplace’ brought the annual revenue of $13,000 in 2016 and so far in 2017, profit of $4,000 has been generated by the platform.

Nowadays, Daastan is conducting campus drives all over Pakistan. Last month, it did five drives by working with universities’ administration.

Daastan has been able to achieve this much because of the dedicated team which consists of an Editorial Board, Design Board, Social Media Team and Marketing Team.

Daastan has been investing heavily on upgrading the technology. Major features of their site are detailed analytics through which writers can see the performance of their published content. An online Urdu editor enables writers to publish in local regional languages of Pakistan.

Furthermore, it is also in the process of connecting digital wallets of EasyPaisa with the portal which will help in automating payments and royalty distribution.

They position themselves as a door through which local talent is showcased globally and international publishers can make their work available through Daastan within Pakistan. Their goals for this year is to publish 1,000 writers and conduct 100 campus drives to make people aware of their work. Without a doubt, this platform has potential to be the game changer.

By Syed Ommer Amer

One thought on “Daastan: Redefining the Foundations of Pakistan’s Publishing Industry

  1. I’m not sure how valid it is to compare Pakistan’s publishing industry with the American juggernaut!

    Here in Australia we have about 500 publishers. Of course our population is a lot smaller than Pakistan’s but we have a century of mass literacy behind us whereas Pakistan is still making progress towards this goal.

    The other issue is also translation: nearly all writers in the US and in Australia are writing in English whereas – although English used to be the official language now it is not – and authors writing in Urdu or Punjabi or any of the other many languages of Pakistan need to be translated for a global audience and that adds to costs.

    Part of the issue is also marketing: Of the seven novels from Pakistan that I have read in recent years, I heard of almost all of them through the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature or the Man Asian Literary Prize. If global bestsellers are the aim, then there needs to be more ways for Pakistani authors to reach out to the global market and better ways for readers outside Pakistan to access the books.


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