Frontline is a 39-year-old fortnightly magazine from The Hindu Group – covering politics, finance, economy, business, science, environment, culture, personalities, and health since its inception in 1984.
In June 2023, Frontline got an identity shift – from a heavily academic-oriented feel to a young and fresh avatar. The magazine’s fresh look was created keeping in mind the generational shift in readers and the preference for digital. The 115-page magazine has gone for a complete design overhaul, including the masthead on the cover page, fonts, colors, and layouts.
Vaishna Roy, editor of Frontline, tells Indian Printer & Publisher, “We believed that the old Frontline had begun to feel very dated and old-fashioned and didn’t look like a product of the modern times – it looked heavy, boring, and dull. We wanted to make it fresh and appeal to newer audiences while keeping the existing readership.”
Roy said they realized that people were put off by how the magazine looked and would not actually want to read what was inside. “We thought we should give it a more attractive and inviting look and feel where the content remains the same but the presentation captures the readers’ interest.”
“We focused on a lot of white spaces, explanatory notes, making the pictures more attractive and using a lot of photographs and graphics,” she says. They have broken up the long interviews into short Q&As and added more box items to make the magazine more appealing. “If you compare the old Frontline to its newer version, you will notice the new one looks very fresh, spacious, very airy, and easy to read.”
Frontline’s CPO Pundi Sriram says, “We have gone for a much more content-specific design. The old Frontline was quite heavy from the design point of view. We have tried to make it more visual and more contemporary in terms of design. We have tried to add new styles of communication such as more facts and data inserts to add more depth from a visual perspective.”
Despite the changes to its design, content, and form, the new Frontline is not using anything new in terms of design software. “We have our internal content management systems and all the designing is done with that,” Pundi says.
Adding new audiences
Magazines are not doing well in India – taken over by the storm called the internet. Roy says it is not an India-specific problem and an uphill struggle for news magazines across the world, Roy says. “Despite that, I feel there is a specific place for niche magazines such as Frontline. “There is a lot of respect people have for Frontline. There is a lot of value they place on the integrity of the magazine.”
The days of mass consumption of magazines are definitely past, as a lot of content is available online. People are scrolling mindless feeds but at the same time, there are others who are fed up with those feeds and want content they can rely on. They want more in-depth coverage to understand topics, Pundi says. “In 2023, we found that this is true of millennials and Gen Z. They are the ones who are big fans of the TikToks and Instagrams of the world. But at the same time, they want information that’s strong, that they can browse and at the same time if they like a topic, they can go deep into it. We see both of these behaviors in our audience. Frontline is the product that we would like to create for them because we provide in-depth coverage and detailed opportunities to read. Our challenge is to add more and more people to this demographic.”
According to Roy, the reception she got for the Frontline relaunch was quite amazing as people were delighted. “We might not be able to boast a huge number but I feel this will not die out immediately. People still seem to be buying the magazines. They hold on to it for a few months, they store it, and come back to it. They treat it as a research thing. People treat it as a weekend reading material, and an archival resource.”
“In that sense, there is a continuing demand for it, though it might not be in the tens of millions. The demand for quality magazines is going to continue, I don’t think it’s completely going to die.”
Frontline’s readership demographic is slightly older but they are trying to keep the magazine attractive and lighter to bring it down. “We want to cater to graduates, students preparing for competitive examinations, scholars and academics in addition to our existing readership, which includes government officials, bureaucrats, armed forces personnel, ministers, writers, and authors, Roy says.
They are adding cultural stories and serious cinema to the Frontline, she added. Frontline articles cite high court and Supreme Court judgments, statistical data, and information along with bureaucrats’ opinions. “There was a time when Frontline wouldn’t do fiction reviews but now we do a lot of fiction reviews and a lot of interviews with writers. There’s a lighter touch to the magazine now. The language we use in Frontline now is more friendly and not academic, boring, dull, and heavy.”
Appealing to the digital medium
There is a very strong digital space for magazines and Frontline is one of the most widely read magazines in India online. “We have a healthy digital subscription base,” Pundi says. At the macro level, magazine readership is declining but at the same time Frontline provides a unique perspective on India, Pundi says, adding it is a leading space for debate in the country and they want to continue leading that debate. “We don’t see the digital readership declining. In fact, we see it growing dramatically. It is important that the image and print of Frontline reflect its online presence.”
Roy also says she has received a positive response for their digital product. “You might think no one would subscribe to a magazine, but you will be amazed to know we have got the largest subscriptions right now among news magazines in India.”
Going forward, they plan to pay more attention to the digital product. Earlier, the magazine would be reproduced on the website. Now, they have a lot of stuff that is digital-exclusive – stories, videos, and explainers. “We recently launched our app, which is doing very well. We realized the need to be present across social media – so we have Twitter and Instagram handles. We have young people who are operating these handles,” she adds.
Roy says they are very conscious of the digital game. “Considering our legacy, we already think we have done a great job, and we are only going to intensify it in the days to come,” she asserts.
“For The Hindu Group, Frontline is a very important and prestigious product. It is read by the best minds of the country and it influences decision-making at the top level. Every product has a certain value at the publisher’s table and the Frontline has immense value – its voice is heard. It is an important product in our stable and we are constantly going to nurture it,” Roy concludes.