“What makes India Today a formidable institution is its excellence and the fact that it is a great journalistic organisation. I don’t see the relevance of the India Today Group diminishing,” says Raj Chengappa, Group Editorial Director, India Today (Publishing) on the road ahead for the news magazine.
Despite print readership on a gradual decline, Ashish Bagga, CEO, India Today believes that the news magazine continues to grow significantly. “We say that the readership of print is declining but for a market leader in English and Hindi, with the two top brands in the country growing steadily, it is a great testimony of our journalistic excellence. Now we are adding muscle to that excellence. We believe that this will further fuel the growth, and not only give readers the kind of value add that we in the typical India Today way bring out, but also to our advertisers in terms of incremental value because of a more discerning and a larger base of readers.”
As India Today revamps its print magazine to suit the demands of contemporary readership trends, we get a low down on this re-imagined format from Raj Chengappa and Ashish Bagga.
What was the inspiration behind the re-imagined format for India Today magazine?
Raj Chengappa: I think any publication has to constantly re-think and re-imagine itself, given the kinds of pressures when you have an information explosion of an unprecedented magnitude. There have been in the past, challenges for India Today too, with coming of platforms like television and then daily papers reacting to television, somehow taking the role that we have, which is interpretation and analysis and getting into more features. Moreover, given the fact that they had so many pages, they could outpace us with some of these issues. So, there was pressure at that time and we changed according to that time. Then came of course the internet, which has been the single biggest disruptor, and with it, came an information explosion of a magnitude that you had never thought of. Anytime, anywhere, any place, you were bombarded with news. So today, you don’t have to read a newspaper or watch television, you just have to scroll down your mobile to get all the information about your city or at a distant place in Iraq or Syria.
Now, amidst all this, where does a magazine like India Today fit in and how do we then work towards meeting the new demands? We are under pressure from TV, newspapers and now from the Internet as well. Three big pressures sitting on us and saying -- so why should anyone read India Today? That is an existential question that we have always asked. This feeling has been worked out, discussed, and even before I joined the process, was thought about to understand what we need to do. We took a stand to work out and also get the resources in place and we decided to build around our core values --- we have always been a credible source, we brought clarity and we brought relevance, and these were the three core values that India Today is known for.
Can you tell us about the specifics of the transformation that this rebranding will entail?
Raj Chengappa: Firstly, what distinguished us always has been our ability to take very complex information, digest it, distil it and come with a clarity and then present that clarity with excellent writing, great visual display and telling graphics. Essentially, we like to be great storytellers, though it is not a vanishing art but with the kind of noise that you are seeing and the chaos that you are witnessing, it had kind of disappeared. So, the effort and the re-imagined India Today that is there, is to bring the same values that we had. One of the experiences that we would like to bring about would be like a fine dining experience. Most of the news on internet today follows a cookie-cutter approach. The pleasure of reading an article when you hold a magazine -- the headlines tell you a story, the photograph tells you a story, the first paragraph entices you to read it. The presentation and what you would eliminate and not do in those four-five pages that you want to do makes all the difference. One is of course the buffet approach in which you serve everything, like a newspaper where people come and pick and fill their stomach and walk off. But we felt that we have to go beyond that and we call it a fine dining experience in some ways. If you take the fine dining experience, you begin with a great deal of starters and appetisers. As complexities grow in terms of the availability of information, and as India changes dramatically, there is no one recording this change cohesively and in a coherent manner, so there is a tremendous scope for that.
Internet is one big melting pot of information and it can also distract you easily. So, time is of great consequence in this and our effort is to make a sense of what is happening and then curate it and say that you need to know these 20 things this week. Moreover, we will tell you those 20 things in a manner that is more palatable, easy to read, easy to digest and bringing the reading experience right back to you and the display experience right back to you, which is missing in today’s cookie-cutter world in which information is being pushed.
Coming back to the fine dining analogy, in the new edition we have presented a dazzling variety of information which is going to keep you updated about what is happening around. We also found that states were being neglected and so we have brought back the state pages which India Today was known for. We will give you some exclusive stuff as well; it is not that we are just chasing the news. We also have a very comprehensive leisure section that takes care of the multifarious interests that people have.
So you start with great appetizers and to fill your stomach you have got 4-5 big features to choose from, that is your main course, and then you get your desserts, which is the leisure section. This in a sense is the right analogy of what we are trying to do. In fact the magazine essentially holds on to the impression of being the magazine for thinking India. We feel that there is a huge information gap despite the information explosion, which in itself is a paradoxical situation. With this revamp, we want to bring back finely crafted journalism and there is some best talent that has rejoined us.
Will this change get reflected on the digital platform as well?
Ashish Bagga: It will cut across all platforms, it is India Today. Whether we are on mobile, internet, print or TV, the core values that Raj has brought in, the new functionality and features that we are introducing, will appear right across our platforms. You may be anywhere in the world, India Today in its new avatar will be with you and we will deliver the same promise that we deliver to you in print or any other form.
Raj Chengappa: We don’t cover stories in India Today superficially or in a frivolous, irrelevant manner. What we are saying is that India Today is for India today and that is our motto. There is a great India unfurling, with economic, social, cultural and political changes happening at a speed that none of us can comprehend, I’m not sure even if the government can. So how do you capture that? Some newspapers and TV channels may do, but at the end you still feel inadequate and still feel the need to know more. We believe that in the new format that we have developed, we will connect with India in a far better way and it is definitely for the thinking Indian.
Moreover, content is the key in this. At the end of the day, it is a channel of distribution and how you present it. In terms of magazine presentation on net, that is an evolving business and we need to learn a lot more, like everybody else, we are learning and experimenting and seeing how best to convey. But let’s take the essence of information; why do you want to know what you want to know? And that is the crux that we are doing. Moreover, it is the aspirational class that is looking for an expert point of view, not just a point of view.
The print readership space is witnessing a gradual decline, is that a cause of worry in the long run?
Ashish Bagga: If you look at the last IRS figures, we have grown significantly. In fact, we are the only English news magazine which has grown and we are the market leader. If that is something to go by then it’s heartening. We believe that with the new IRS and the refreshed India Today, and with all the brand marketing activities that we are doing, we should be delivering more readers than before. Even Hindi has also grown remarkably, which is the demonstration of the faith that the readers have in us. On the one hand we say that the readership of print is declining but for a market leader in English and Hindi, with the two top brands in the country growing steadily, it is a great testimony of our journalistic excellence. Now we are adding muscle to that excellence. We believe that this will further fuel the growth, and not only give readers the kind of value add that we in the typical India Today way bring out, but also to our advertisers in terms of incremental value because of a more discerning and a larger base of readers.
And what about the international audience, are you looking at them more aggressively this time?
Ashish Bagga: We are India Today and that defines our editorial policy and market. Now, there are millions of people across the world who are interested in India and even institutions and corporates etc. It is for us to serve India for our target audience, which is the thinking Indian in India and abroad.
Raj Chengappa: The best part about being a multi-platform player is that it is a force multiplier and you can slice and dice the information to cater to different mediums. If you look at the recent Modi interview, TV played it up, digital got a lot of traffic because of it and even the social media was abuzz, so you are able to create a surround sound which is not possible to create in a uni-media set up.
How has demonetisation phase been for the India Today magazine?
Raj Chengappa: From an editorial perspective, I think demonetisation has brought in a bigger news environment, more people are interested in knowing why it is happening, and the news space is witnessing more interest with the budget and the elections coming up.
Finally, how would you describe the road ahead for India Today and what kind of demands does contemporary print journalism entail?
Raj Chengappa: What makes India Today a formidable institution is its excellence and the fact that it is a great journalistic organisation. I don’t see the relevance of the India Today Group diminishing. Today you cannot just run a magazine like it was done earlier; you have to curate everything that gets in, which means a tight quality control and a greater need for amplification of news than ever before and we are doing all this at India Today.