For a lifestyle journalist with over 16 years of experience with local and national magazines, where she decided the direction of the editorial slant, it was perhaps the next natural thing to start a magazine. But then, Sinduri Vuppala’s latest assignment is hardly everybody’s cup of chai. For one, Hashtag is India’s first and only digitally interactive magazine. Secondly, the images and stories are hyper realistic taking the reading experience to a hitherto unknown level, Harry Potter fans would be reminded of the newspaper of the wizarding world, The Daily Prophet.
Each time she heard of yet another big publication shut shop, she procrastinated on her idea. “I continued to persist on the idea that there were other people like me out there -people who still revelled in thick paper and sweet-smelling ink, not to mention thoughtful long-form journalism that take more than a couple of minutes and a smartphone camera to crank out…”
Enter 2020, and the whole world went upside down. Covid really was the final nail in the coffin for the print media, which was already dying a natural death. “People stopped getting newspapers and overnight everything went digital, and information was all online. It also proves the speed with which digital works, you can reach about 60000 to a lakh people in a matter of hours (depending on your reach) in just a matter of minutes!” states Sinduri.
The founder who initially dabbled multiple ideas, hot upon the perfect combination via Hashtag. The magazine has both long-form and snippet-y kind of stories; it is pan-India in its scope and caters to a wide variety of audience. From arts to actors, dining out to travel and start-ups to hum interest stories, everything finds a place here. “We argued, we scoffed and after much trial and error we were proud to present Hashtag Magazine, India’s first Interactive Digital Magazine.”
The entrepreneur turned journalist agrees and adds, “We realized that people have a shorter attention span than we use to have. With a balance of video content and stories, we create an amalgamation that combines the exquisiteness, and perspective of a monthly print magazine with all the timeliness, approachability and interactivity of an online one. We are clear that we don’t want to be another Instagram page.”
The strategy is clearly working as within a year of its launch, the magazine has over lakh subscribers globally and over a million readers each month. With a target audience which is varied but is predominantly from the 18-45 years age band, the magazine has gotten its demographics right early on into the game.
Bringing out a magazine with no template for it involves a lot of trial and error. Sinduri smiles and nods her head saying, “Traditionally when you design, it’s a simple process and can be done and dusted easily with just a page designer. But for us, there was no technology in place and what was available was extremely expensive. We had to work around and luckily I had a good team but still the process to get it right took six months.”
Along with the technology part, everything else involved taking a gamble. Understanding content, figuring out a financial model and getting advertisers on board for what surely is a novel idea, wasn’t easy. But then, well begun is half done as they say, and Hashtag magazine is now firmly ensconced in the Indian media firmament. For someone from print media, is digital a completely different ball game? “Absolutely.” agrees the founder and adds, “It was like going back to college and learning a completely new gamut of things from keyword searches, SEO tools and other aspect of digital language. It’s not just designing a page and leaving at it.”
The digital world is extremely dynamic with things changing every minute but Sinduri says that though the job is difficult at the end of the day when the issue is signed off, there is a deep sense of content. “In print media, you understand your circulation and market but digital is a little different. However, when you see Salman Khan on the cover or a friend tagging you about a restaurant you raved and they loved, it all seems worthwhile.”
Hashtag understands its audience clearly and has everything for someone. From food and shopping to travel and heritage, there is a wide gamut of stories, which are useful. With a team of 35 journalists across the country from the Himalayas to the Western Ghats and from Jaipur to Jabalpur, the content is brought by experienced and talented journalists who are passionate about their work.
“My copy editor sits in Delhi, journalists spread out all over the country and I’m in Hyderabad so it’s a completely virtual office. We just want to put out good and reliable content,” notes the founder. The focus currently is on improving their reach and reaching all corners of the country. “I think I’m a mix of an entrepreneur and a journalist. I possess the right mix of creativity and curiosity as a journalist and the determination of an entrepreneur. I have my fingers crossed,” she signs off.
For more details, visit: www.hashtagmagazine.in