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Giving away content or undercharging it in the digital space would be a mistake: Keith Bellows, National Geographic Traveller

Talking to afaqs!, Keith Bellows, editor-in-chief, National Geographic Traveller and vice-president, National Geographic Society says expanding into the digital space is the inevitable road ahead for magazines; however, one must tread with caution, not undervaluing content.

After the launch of the Indian edition of National Geographic's travel magazine, National Geographic Traveller (NGT) in India, the team is well braced with its strategy for the Indian market. In a brief chat with afaqs!, Keith Bellows, editor-in-chief, National Geographic Traveller and vice-president, National Geographic Society shares his thoughts on the trends in Indian travel, the reading habits of the traveller and how the magazine strives to marry both to serve the best purpose.

Keith Bellows

ACK Media launched National Geographic Traveller India earlier this month. The monthly title launched with an initial print run of 60,000 copies is available across the country at a cover price of Rs 120. With the strong brand name that is National Geographic and the local edition of the magazine sporting the familiar yellow-bordered cover, it probably would not need much time to find favour with the loyalists. However, with a medium that is being seen as losing out to other channels available, what does the future hold?

Bellows is quick to accept that the best way forward is to embrace technology while giving content its due.

"What we are doing in the United States, and it is our strategy everywhere, is valuing our content and then looking at ways to extend it into other media," he says.

According to Bellows, the current period is one of transition, where one makes the best possible switchover from the traditional to modern.

"Print is not going to be the dominant medium in the next five years. Most probably, the digital platform is going to be the one to become much more powerful. But it is not going to happen overnight. We are looking at something of a five-year transitional period. We are trying to figure out the best way to market in the digital space. Print will be a major contributor to our revenue. It is how we transition our revenue stream from print to print plus digital and maybe, digital mostly and some print," he explains.

National Geographic Traveller

Niloufer Venkatraman, editor-in-chief, National Geographic Traveller India says that niche magazines have a significant space in India.

"Everybody has to stay abreast towards technology and have a game plan to use digital. We will launch the digital version of National Geographic Traveller India in a few months. The plan is to keep up with the technology and not get rid of print," Venkatraman says.

The digital strategy of the magazine, too, is to not merely reproduce the print version but to adapt to platforms and the available potential accordingly. This could mean a particular story in the magazine being featured with more visuals on a website or a different mobile version.

This also leads to the question if consumers are willing to pay for digital content. Bellows is of the opinion that they are.

"We have absolute proof in the United States that consumers do (want to pay for digital content). It depends on content that is compelling enough for them to want to buy. We don't want to be giving away content or undercharging content; that is what happens with the internet," Bellows says.

"We have to really work towards that because we don't want to get into a situation where once again, we have to rely more on advertising than the revenue stream we get from consumers," he adds.

Bellows suggests that besides offering content across media, there could be other means like a book being developed around a particular concept or trips organised to reach the consumer at different touch points.

National Geographic Traveller India is targeted at family holiday planners, primarily SEC A and B in the metros and mini-metros, with around 75 per cent of locally generated content.

Venkatraman says that there existed a gap in this particular segment that catered neither to the luxury or the backpackers and the lower-end consumers. National Geographic Traveller India attempts to fill the very need gap and being a storytelling magazine rather than just a guide book.

Bellows finds a hunger among people to see their own country. He once again cites the example of the traveller in the United States, who travels more within the country than outside.

"From the price point and the proximity point of view, as Indian travel gets a little more sophisticated, a little more curiosity about various parts of India is built, it would translate into a significant boost in domestic travel," he says.

He attempts to contribute with his bit, creating travel content that reveals stories about the country, about a market he finds very exciting.

"Typically, and you will see this manifest in the newspapers, travel journalism is about service information and pretty straightforward guidebook information. Where you should go, where should you stay, and how much you should pay. This is pretty boring actually. This is something you can get online or on your mobile phone," says Bellows.

With people increasingly wanting to relate to the content, travellers wanting to actually be at the place while reading a story, it is difficult to do so by merely supplying information. Instead, a destination must be illustrated, the narrative made interesting enough to excite the traveller to explore a place, he adds.

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