<b>Sandipan Deb</b>, Editor-in-Chief, Open

We don’t want to be a magazine of record, we don’t want to give the re-run of stuff that the reader already knows. That is the way all good weekly magazines in the world are headed… Days of the traditional weekly newsmagazine are over. For that, there’s Google News. We will not put the week’s news on the cover unless it is a very significant event. Then also, as far as possible, we will try to look at it from a fresh and interesting perspective so that it stimulates the reader’s mind.

e4m by exchange4media Staff
Published: Feb 25, 2010 12:00 AM  | 9 min read
<b>Sandipan Deb</b>, Editor-in-Chief, Open

We don’t want to be a magazine of record, we don’t want to give the re-run of stuff that the reader already knows. That is the way all good weekly magazines in the world are headed… Days of the traditional weekly newsmagazine are over. For that, there’s Google News. We will not put the week’s news on the cover unless it is a very significant event. Then also, as far as possible, we will try to look at it from a fresh and interesting perspective so that it stimulates the reader’s mind.

Sandipan Deb is the Editor-in-Chief of the recently-launched weekly magazine ‘Open’ from the house of the Rs 14,000-crore RPG Group. The RPG Group deals in home video, television software, and digital distribution of audio and video content. The Group houses famous brands like Ceat Tyres and Spencer’s, among others. ‘Open’ is part of RPG’s integrated entertainment company, Saregama.

A degree from the prestigious IIT followed by an MBA from IIM is a combination that more than two lakh students every year aspire for, often to hop to Silicon Valley or some giant US corporation. Deb secured both – completing B. Tech in Electronics from IIT Kharagpur, and an MBA from IIM Calcutta. After dabbling in regular management jobs in advertising and financial services at the ITC Group, Deb found his calling in his first love – writing. Since then, he has only been penning scripts of leading publications in the country.

In 1995, he co-founded the Outlook Group that publishes an array of current affairs and business magazines. He worked in the capacity of Managing Editor at the Outlook Group, and also became the founding Editor of Outlook Money. He remains one of the key architects behind the colossal success of the Outlook Group.

In 2004, he went on to author a book on his alma mater, ‘The IITians’, which was published by Penguin. The following year, Deb stepped down as Managing Editor of Outlook Group and was soon roped in by the Indian Express Group. Though initially brought in to start a slew of magazines at the Express Group, Deb was later given the charge to edit the Group’s financial daily Financial Express, a publication that he edited for two years.

In January 2008, Deb decided to move on to the RPG Group to head their new venture in media. Wearing a neat smile, often concealed by the self-effacing shyness of the successful, 45-year old Deb, unlike most of the editors in the country, is unassuming and always keeps his doors open to his team.

In conversation with exchange4media’s Rohan Dua,Deb speaks at length about Open’s inception, the journey so far, editorial policies and the road ahead.



Q. Do you intend to inundate readers with free supplements that have advertorials and sleazy material? No, no such plans yet.

Q. The Editor’s Note also takes pride in the fact that the editorial team comprises members aged less than 40 years. What is the reason for this? We wanted to be young in mind and fresh in approach. We didn’t want to be hackneyed or old-fashioned in any way. We want to take magazine journalism in India to the next level. So, we wanted to find and showcase the next generation of great journalists in the country. Younger people, who want to express themselves, are ready to lead, ready for the next leap in their careers. People, who are bored with current mainstream journalism and want to take matters in their hands and create something refreshing and different.

Q. The price of ‘Open’ magazine is a shade above its competitors, particularly at a time when print popularity has shown a decline... We believe people will recognise value when they see it. Please note that we are also larger in size than other weekly magazines and thicker. We are spine-bound and printed on thicker paper. Also, we are not positioning ourselves against any other magazine. We believe we can create a category of our own, a product aimed at an upmarket, discerning, intelligent, global-minded reader. And today, Rs 30 is hardly an expensive price tag. One pays Rs 15 or Rs 20 to park one’s car everyday.

Q. The Editor’s Note carried in the inaugural issue of ‘Open’ mentioned that the magazine would be opinionated and that it would often have to grapple with detractors. Please elucidate. We don’t want to give bland information and a re-run of what you have already read in the papers and seen on TV. We want to give the reader a point of view, a way of looking at things. Because we respect the intelligence of our reader and believe that he is already well-informed. We are a friend having a discussion with him over a cup of coffee. He is free to disagree and argue, and we accept that with all humility, because we believe in free minds and freedom of opinion and expression.

Q. Having worked with ‘Outlook’ magazine before, are there any editorial standards that you have incorporated in this new venture? Also, you wanted to begin a slew of magazines with the Financial Express, which unfortunately never shaped up and remained a pipedream. Are there any ideas that you have used in this magazine? We will do stories that will have to pass muster through at least two of these five filters – every story has to inform or entertain or lead to a thought or have an emotional impact or be useful. We will maintain total journalistic neutrality and integrity. And we will respect the reader’s intelligence. This magazine has been swirling in the heads of a few of us for several years now, and we were very clear in our heads what it should be like, and the concept has not changed. It is a magazine of world class standards from India, and not an Indian magazine. That’s the concept. Then quite accidentally I met Sanjiv Goenka, and ‘Open’ happened...

Q. Most of your cover stories tend to be quite distinct from regular news headlines of the week. What is the reason for this and how do you intend to make them populist? We don’t want to be a magazine of record, we don’t want to give the re-run of stuff that the reader already knows. That is the way all good weekly magazines in the world are headed. If you compare ‘Time’ magazine today with ‘Time’ in the mid-90s, you’ll see the difference. More features, more opinion columns, less politics. Last month, ‘Newsweek’ explicitly stated that it was moving away from news reporting and becoming more of a views magazine. Days of the traditional weekly newsmagazine are over. For that, there’s Google News. We will not put the week’s news on the cover unless it is a very significant event. Then also, as far as possible, we will try to look at it from a fresh and interesting perspective so that it stimulates the reader’s mind.

Q. At a time, when media is witnessing a slow and restricted growth, often resulting in salary pruning and pink slips, how difficult was it for ‘Open’ to announce itself in the already cramped magazine market, despite having the backing of the Rs 14,000-crore RPG Group? Yes, it is a difficult time, and there’s no paucity of doomsayers who predict that print media will die soon. But what people don’t notice is that China and India are two markets where English-language print media is growing and thriving. Look at how crowded the newsstands are and how many foreign magazine brands have been launched in India in the last couple of years. Just consider the number of young people who are learning to communicate in English every year, and are thus coming into the potential English media readership market. So, we are quite confident.

Q. The backing of the Rs 14,000 RPG Group means that ‘Open’ might not need to depend on too much advertisement. Do you agree with that? And how is the response from the advertisers? No, not at all. We don’t want to be a subsidised product, a vanity enterprise. Our team is aggressively pursuing premium advertisers. Yes, the market is bad, and we are a new product, we have to prove ourselves. But I also believe that the economic downturn will end sooner than expected. There are already signs visible. And as part of a large group, we have staying power. This is a very small investment that the RPG Group has made, compared to our investment in sectors like power and retail. We can weather the bad times.

Q. Most of the magazines have positioned themselves on the coverage of the metros only. ‘Open’, on the other hand, has forayed into India’s hinterland, scooping out more human interest stories. How is that going to engage readers and elevate its readership? We wanted to be pan-Indian, and not a Mumbai-Delhi-centric magazine. My experience has also been that people outside the metros feel a bit let down by the almost totally metro-centric content of most of our magazines. It is skewed badly and also, I suspect, somewhat due to lazy journalists. One would rather do a story in a metro than sweat it out in rural Chhattisgarh. India is a vast, diverse and infinitely interesting country. There are stories in every street. How many, before ‘Open’, had done a story that in the last nine years, not a single Hindi film has been released in Manipur because the militants there have banned them? We respect every Indian and his right to be heard.

Q. What is the response that you have seen so far, including the criticisms and applause? And how is the editorial response to them? Really, the response has been quite overwhelming. Every letter we have printed till date is genuine, which is amazing for a new magazine. Of course, there has been criticism, but compared to the positive response, it is marginal. Readers have written in from cities as far away as Copenhagen. Writers based in London or San Francisco have spontaneously mailed or called, asking to write for ‘Open’, or be associated with the magazine in some way. We are humbled. Now, the challenge is to keep up the quality on a week by week basis, and even improve.

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