These guys at IMPACT are incredible. They ask you a set of questions or give a topic that often has no definite answers. ‘Seven ways to improve the shelf life of a magazine’… Hmm… Would readers of IMPACT be happy with this topic? They might, if a personal finance magazine proclaims “10 ways to make a crore in one year” or “10 ways to avoid income tax” or better still, like some of the women’s magazines blare on the cover, “69 ways to seduce your partner”.
But improving the shelf life of a magazine? Give me a break, readers would say.
I can immediately think of some quick-fix solution to this problem.
1. Make my magazine from a weekly to a fortnightly, thereby the shelf-life rises to 15 days
2. Or, make it a monthly and increase it to 30 days
3. Better still, make it a quarterly and get 90 days
4. Why not a half-yearly, gaining 182 days?
5. Hey, how about an annual issue with full 365 days?
6. Hold it, hold it, make it a fiction volume (not a bad idea, considering all those funny current affairs that we face these days), and thereby go beyond any periodicity and hey presto! Make it a coffee-table magazine, a timeless possession!
7. Or, ultimately lock it in a shelf and lose the key! It is bound to be there as long as the shelf exists
Durability is the state of mind, especially for a product that stimulates thoughts and feeds your intellect. A magazine meets some unique needs of its readers. It engages its readers and not merely informs them. It gives them a perspective and not news. It empowers the readers and makes them opinion-leaders. It leaves a lasting impact on its readers’ minds on subjects covered. When readers put down the magazine after reading it, it gets up to stir their mind and create a lingering thought process. ‘Hey, this is what is happening around you in the world. Is there anything that you, as an individual could do or participate?’ Ultimately, the reader may or may not do anything towards it, for reasons beyond the magazine’s control, but as long as it stimulates their mind and acts as a catalyst in their thought-process, the job is well done.
The impact a magazine makes differs from genre to genre. Niche magazines cater to different needs of their readers, but the common link for all of them is to engage, entertain, inform or empower. A fashion magazine may expose the world of fashion and beauty and exhibit the choices one could make and also serve the goal of “look good, feel good” factor. A travel magazine will act as a companion or help the decision-making or even make the readers arm-chair travellers, taking them there virtually.
Getting back to improving the shelf life of a magazine - one needs to approach the issue from the perspective of keeping the readers engaged beyond a week or the periodicity of a magazine. Now let me get into the business of listing the 7’o’7:
The impact made by the stories of the magazine needs to last longer, unlike the physical product – like scoops or investigative stories. For example, the cricket betting scandal that we broke years back and how all hell broke loose thereafter or recently, when we unleashed the Radia tapes, it left India stunned, heads rolled, jails filled and the saga continues.
Keep the reader engaged through a contest and stoke his aspiration level that goes beyond a week
Seek the readers’ opinion on a hot current topic through a poll and follow up with a story on that
Publish some reader-service sections that act as a reference point, thereby stopping the reader from throwing it to the raddi-wallah in a hurry
Bring out a serial essay, thereby past issues make some relevance to the reader
A photo-feature every week that becomes a collection by itself
Begin an interface between readers and the editor on certain topics covered by the magazine, thereby keeping the issue alive and kicking for a longer period of time. We have begun this successfully last year and the initiative is poised to grow bigger.
All these are easier said than done, though. There is no instant formula or ready-to-serve recipe to make magazines last longer. But if one has to make that kind of longer impact, we the magazine guys, better stretch.
(Suresh Selvaraj, President, Outlook and Marie Claire.)