It was an event I looked forward to with great interest and enthusiasm – A Women Writers’ Fest, hosted by SheThePeople.TV, in Pune. When author, Kiran Manral, asked me if I would moderate a discussion on the effect of digitalisation on print media, I grabbed the opportunity. What an electric interaction that would be! I had, as the editor of a women’s monthly, till I quit a couple of years ago, struggled to cope with the challenge of diminishing revenue and a fickle readership. Had others from my tribe walked a similar tightrope? How had they coped? What would they reveal? How different was it for the newspaper, which had a clear advantage over the magazine or the book in terms of the time span taken to hit the stands? Who doesn’t want a peek into the secret life of editors?
There was an infectious buzz about the place. When I walked into Bond, the classy, colourful, arty space, it was packed with women—authors, aspiring writers, journalists and women who had more than a cursory interest in writing. There was an infectious buzz about the place. I could see pens flying on notepads, heads nodding, and views being exchanged. This was where I belonged, this high-octane, charged atmosphere. As I took the stage with four other women editors—Sunanda Mehta, Corina B Manuel, Gauri Shah, Sucharita Datta-Asane—from the print media, I knew I was facing a hungry audience.
There had been a spill-over from the earlier event and it was way past lunch time. It was going to be a challenge to keep a famished audience engaged, and there had to be enough food for thought to keep them nourished for an hour. But, the expectation and excitement were palpable. The moment we began, the hunger pangs were forgotten. As the feisty editors began to reveal some little-known, but widely speculated upon aspects of their professional lives. Clearly, despite the obituaries written for the print media, this was not a near-extinct lot, beaten by the invasion of digitalisation. These women were fighters.
Independent Book Editor, Sucharita Datta-Asane welcomed the gift of technology. She appreciated the fact that it had made writer-editor interaction far easier. Reiterating that conference calls and Skype have made it possible to have group discussions among editors, publishers and authors. She said, “These exchanges have not just benefitted writers and their books. They are also a win-win for everyone involved in bringing out the book.”
Readers still look at newspapers for authentic news, reassurance, and an objective overview of world events.
Happy that despite the advent of social media, newspaper readership was on the rise in India, Sunanda said, “Readers still look at newspapers for authentic news, reassurance, and an objective overview of world events. There are just so many kneejerk reactions flying around, that the reader picks up the newspaper for a balanced view. People will continue to read newspapers with their morning cup of tea.”
Corina rued the fact that magazines could no longer carry long articles exploring a particular topic or portraying a personality in-depth. The copy had now to be broken up into tiny bytes. She asserted, “One must accept that print media is revenue driven. Revenue sustains us, and pays the salaries of the employees. While content is king, every editor has to walk the tightrope.”
With trends changing like weather, we had to look for new ways to keep the reader engaged.
Gauri Shah spoke about how challenging it was for her to revamp the entire magazine. “It’s a lot of hard work. With trends changing like weather, we had to look for new ways to keep the reader engaged. So, we went for the anti – what is not in vogue. We explored unbeaten paths, like featuring little-known travel destinations.”
As for me, the challenge was that the magazine I edited was completely home-grown, desi, as some referred to it. Holding our own in the face of stiff competition from international magazine brands, flush with funds, as well as the digital invasion, was a mini media war, no less. What’s more, I was ghost-writing the editorial and the agony column for the actor, the dream girl, who was the face of the magazine. So, I had two personas—my own fierce one, and the other I had carefully cultivated. But, digitalisation had boosted my creativity. Every moment, I found myself innovating, altering, and brainstorming with my team. How do we surprise the reader?
The most important factor was the acceptance of digitalisation, and the acknowledgment that ad revenue sustains print media.
As the discussion came to a close, we were all in agreement that the most important factor was the acceptance of digitalisation. And the acknowledgment that ad revenue sustains print media. Once that is done, balance is the key, and without doubt, you need to have your finger on the pulse of the reader.
The discussion was intense, with amazing insights, some fun moments and brutal honesty. No holds barred. Only, we would have loved to field questions from the audience, but time was the dampener. Never mind. The fest will return. The room will be crowded with women eager to toy with new ideas, play with words, narrate their stories, and engage in sparkling conversations. And, yes, I will be there!
Archana is the former editor of New Woman