When 32-year-old Sakshi Sinha lost her job at a leading airline in April this year, following the Coronavirus lockdown (COVID-19), she did not rush to update her resume and apply for work elsewhere. She called her newly-married cousin in the US, whose marriage had been forecast accurately by an astrologer online through AstroTalk. With the astrologer’s details, she logged on to the site, selected the astrologer’s name from among the list of nearly 500 experts on-boarded by the site and fixed up a time for consultation. She is now following the ‘remedies’ suggested by the astrologer and has enrolled for a web-based skill upgradation course on his advice.
Bharatpur-based Pandit Surendranath Panch, personal astrologer to former vice-president of India and chief minister of Rajasthan, late Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, says he has seen a 40 percent increase in clientele during the lockdown period, which has shifted from face-to-face to telephonic consultation.
Raking in a moolah
“In the last couple of months I have been getting more calls from clients all over India. Most people are worried about jobs and business loss due to the economic recession,” says the 68-year-old astrologer, who charges only Rs 500 per consultation.
But the biggest moolah is being raked in by online astrology marketplaces, which have proliferated in the last two decades.
“Most of our clients are young people in the 23 to 35 age group. They are the ones dealing with career or relationship issues. And they are also tech-savvy,” says Puneet Gupta, founder and CEO of AstroTalk.
Arjun Ravindran, Managing Director, ClickAstro, says the interest in astrology has been increasing over the years. “With the millenials, it is even more as can be clearly seen from the offtake for mobile applications and their use in the last few years.”
A reason why youngsters are making a beeline for astrology websites is because of the multiplicity of options before them, be it education, career or a choice of location to settle down. “They are exposed to more options and as the number of choices increase, they look for guidance. And one of the options happens to be astrology,” he says.
And for the elderly, it is health concerns due to COVID-19, which are pushing them to seek consultation. “Some clients, especially those who are already suffering from diseases, are concerned about health. They ask me about remedies to live a healthy life,” says Panch, who has been practicing astrology for over four decades. He also runs the Bharatiya Jyotish Kendra in Bharatpur, where he teaches astrology and meditation besides performing Vedic yagnas.
Talking of the rising interest in astrology, Gupta quotes the business figures for one day on his website.
The app has an in-built wallet where customers park the money before making the call.
The business model
Ravindran entered the future prediction market in 1984 with a software solution that would draw up the horoscope and give detailed predictions based on Vedic astrology. Today, the algorithms on ClickAstro generate predictions in a matter of a few seconds once the user inputs the birth details.
“Almost 95 percent of our business comes from automated, personalised, multilingual, instant reports,” he says. From career, finance and marriage to stock market predictions, there are reports for all the subjects that matter to people, especially in the current uncertain times.
At ClickAstro, users can opt for a free report to understand what they will receive in a paid report. Premium reports cost between Rs 1000 and Rs 1500, depending on the content.
“We give people an opportunity to read free reports and if it interests them, they upgrade to the paid version. That conversion has been rapid during the lockdown,” he says.
ClickAstro also offers personalised consultancy from distinguished astrologers in India, which brings under five percent of its revenues. It has clients from 170 countries and has generated more than 112 million horoscopes in 11 languages so far.
AstroTalk too gets nearly one-fifth or about 20 percent of the business from overseas customers. But unlike ClickAstro, astrologers are the mainstay of AstroTalk’s business.
“Their rates depend on their experience, demand and ratings,” says Gupta.
While astrology as a profession is old as human civilization itself, what explains the popularity of the online business model is the focus on customers and a touch of professionalism to the experience. “There were a lot of online astrology channels being run without any verification and without focusing on customer delight. We focused on user experience. And we also suggest clients to make a decision based on rating and reviews of astrologers on the site,” Gupta adds.
It is this faith in astrology that has helped the profession to survive for centuries. And as we enter a new normal with more uncertainties all around, astrology will only gain more popularity, with a boost from technology.
(Rashmi Pratap is a Mumbai-based journalist specialising in financial, business and socio-economic reporting; Mona Singh is a Rajasthan-based freelance writer and wanderer)