Since some years, we have seen a paradigm shift in people consuming news and features online. With magazine sales dwindling at a faster pace in the print medium, only a few have managed to survive the dot com storm and retain reader loyalty.
We spoke to Jamal Shaikh, National Editor of Brunch, Hindustan Times, on how the weekly has managed to crack the code to success. Edited excerpts below:
How has HT Brunch maintained a consistent rapport with its readers?
The Hindustan Times' Brunch is clear about its role as a Sunday magazine. It’s a positive, happy read that is meant to provide a cheerful start to your day-off. For almost 14 years now, Brunch has given its readers top class leisure content and the proof of the pudding lies in the fact that it is the only Sunday magazine in the country that continues to survive and thrive. With Vir Sanghvi, Seema Goswami, Sanjoy Narayan and Rajiv Makhni, it has the best columnists in the country. And tell me honestly, haven’t you opened your Sunday HT and thought with excitement, “I wonder what Brunch has put on the cover today?"
How important is design in print in today’s digitally-driven world?
A magazine has a different DNA from a newspaper. I remember picking up Harper’s Bazaar in US because the publishing house I then worked with, wanted to launch an Indian edition. The 400-page thick magazine had less than 50 pages of writing. You could either label it “a photo album with just pictures and captions” or call it “visual storytelling at its best.” That taught me that visuals in a magazine are extremely important. In today’s digital world, pictures are still important but gone are the days of “soft focus” and “perfect pictures.” We’re used to seeing imperfect pictures on YouTube. Today’s still image needs to capture a moment and a visual that a video cannot convey. That’s when it’ll be successful. Recently, Brunch conducted a full-fledged cover shoot with Varun Dhawan using only an iPhone and what a hit it was on social media!
Given the popularity of digital and social media, how difficult is it for print players to maintain their audience?
Not difficult at all. Neither is it mutually exclusive. Today, the more solid content in India continues to emanate from print, which is then projected onto digital. At Brunch, you’ll see our digital offering get stronger in the near future. Soon, you may think of Brunch not only on Sundays but every day.
What are the three essential factors that make content interesting?
The surprise factor, the visual appeal, which is very important in a magazine, and the delight. If a Sunday magazine doesn’t leave you feeling happy, what will?
How has your journey beenso far as the National Editorof Brunch?
To be honest, when I joined HT, I did know about the popularity of Brunch but I had not realised that Brunch prints more than a million copies every week and has a readership of four million. Every other magazine, in comparison, is small fry and Brunch is the largest-circulated and read magazine in India today. The huge social media reaction every Sunday could well take up my entire day, though I try to keep it restricted (mostly unsuccessfully) to two hours in the morning and two in the evening. The last time I worked with a publication that had such a large impact was when I was with the Times of India and those days, there was no social media or even email and thus the reactions would come in a few days later. The reactions we get to Brunch hits you like an overwhelming tsunami every Sunday morning and goes on to show its power and popularity. Which other magazine has Bollywood stars lining up to feature in it, at times when they have no movie to promote?
How do you manage to deal with the competition? Any different strategy that you opt for?
An ardent fan of Brunch made some Insta-placards and put them out on social media recently. They showed a cover of Brunch with a pregnant Kareena Kapoor and a cover of Grazia from the next month right next to it, which also featured a pregnant Kareena. The caption read—Brunch did it first! He did the same with the Roshan and Sons cover and Hello magazine, which also featured the Roshans. As they say, if imitation is the best form of flattery...
What do you see in the future of print media?
Print will live on. There’ll continue to be a special charm in reading something on paper. But at the same time, the content, preferably augmented with videos, links, etc. should also be made available to readers digitally. Readers, on their part, need to start paying for good content… that is the only way they’ll continue to get it.