The launch of the Hindi edition of Down to Earth (DTE) has fulfilled a long-standing wish of the founders. When the English edition of the magazine was launched in 1992, there was expectation that it should also be brought out in languages accessible to those it writes about. Beginning with the October 2016 inaugural issue, the first eight issues of DTE Hindi have already won acclaim. Indian Printer and Publisher met Richard Mahapatra, managing editor, Down to Earth, for a discussion on the much-awaited launch of the Hindi edition of the magazine.
Scope and dimension
According to Mahapatra, the Hindi monthly edition will not be a clinical translation of the English fortnightly magazine, as it will have a different design including a new cover story and cover design in every issue. There will be content overlaps―both intended and unavoidable since the readership has similar concerns and the magazines source a large part of their research-driven and analytical data from the same parent non-profit organization, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE). (CSE is a non-profit organization that includes amongst its donors several Indian and international government and institutional donors.)
Mahapatra says the decision to bring out the magazine in Hindi followed a series of internal discussions and debates spanning six to seven months. One of the main challenges is obviously to make it financially viable without overstepping the organizational code of ethics, which forbids revenue generation by most of the commonly known conventional methods. As a publication of an environmental watchdog organization, DTE’s scope of operating a profit-centered revenue model is severely limited. Mahapatra points out that DTE does not have a list of advertisers to boost revenues but does have a list showing who not to accept advertisements from.
Conceptualizing the magazine Mahapatra and his team also researched the viability of bringing out the issue in Hindi by referring to case studies of The Economist and National Geographic, both known for their in-depth research and quality content. Mahapatra even interacted with a senior editor of The Economist who was familiar with DTE whose encouraging response acknowledged the magazine’s ethics and editorial focus and felt that the Hindi edition would make the magazine accessible to many readers who were currently out of its ambit.
An inspiration for bringing out DTE in Hindi was National Geographic’s survival strategy. Threatened with being nearly shut down, the magazine found traction with audiences that were previously out of bounds due to language barriers by bringing out editions in other languages. Finally, DTE’s own research showed that all the talk of print media being doomed and dead does not hold true in India. Moreover, for a research-driven magazine focused on development and environment, there is a substantial and growing market of serious readers in Indian languages.
Local to global
DTE’s English and Hindi editions have their own terms of reference and plans in an attempt to focus on their individual reader demographics. For the Hindi readers, the stories need to link regional development issues in a way that makes the readers realize their universal dimension. Here, DTE’s role is to connect issues of critical importance from local to global even as the domain remains the same environment and development. For instance, DTE reported on the forest resources smuggler Veerappan, as well as other crime stories and even the elections but with an objective analysis of the impact of the events on development and their effect on the environment.
An example of how DTE’s Hindi magazine provides enhanced coverage of local issues on a global plane is its coverage of the prime minister’s promise of delivering toilet access to everyone in Varanasi. For the mainline press, the story is just that and nothing more. When DTE takes up the story, there will be many other dimensions like where the toilets are likely to be built, whether they will be sustained with 24 x 7 water supply or whether and how the waste will be managed. In other words, DTE will objectively cover both the developmental and environmental aspects of the story, especially where people at the grassroots are affected.
Sustaining the magazine
When asked why the name ‘Down to Earth’ was retained for the Hindi edition, Mahapatra explained that people who showed preference for DTE Hindi, have actually come to know about the magazine from the English edition. According to him, it is a Herculean task to establish an entirely new magazine brand in today’s market and it would require resources far in excess of what DTE can afford. With a circulation of 70,000 copies, DTE in English is currently subscription driven; it is not available on news stands. Similarly, the Hindi version, too, will not be available on the stands and will initially have a circulation of just 5,000 copies distributed to the Hindi niche audience.
DTE plans to contact educational, research and academic institutions all over the country for bulk orders. This will help create a captive subscription-driven readership of stakeholders, scholars, students and individuals who care for sustainable development. DTE Hindi will not have a separate website and will be part of the existing DTE site. Here again, it does not make sense to overlook the tremendous reach and credibility of the existing site not just in India but all across the world. However, DTE Hindi is already active on social media and is sharing its stories across multiple platforms.