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Following them into the digital world

Following them into the digital world

Children’s magazines, popular in the 1980s, have either disappeared under the digital onslaught or moved to e-platforms in a bid to survive17 Feb 2019 | 10:38 AM

Electronic devices, especially cell phones, have a Pied Piper-like hold over today’s know-it-all children whose first port of call is ‘Google’ when it comes to looking for information.

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Pankaj K Deo

Electronic devices, especially cell phones, have a Pied Piper-like hold over today’s know-it-all children whose first port of call is ‘Google’ when it comes to looking for information. Offline resources, such as books, encyclopaedias and magazines, seem distinctly passé for the millennial generation. So, one would assume that the digital revolution might have sounded the death knell for the offline readership of children’s magazines popular in the 1980s and 1990s, but not quite. 

Children’s magazines did become the unintended victims of this digital transformation sweeping across every sphere of human life in the first decade of the 21st century. However, faced with the struggle for existence, these magazines soon started adapting themselves to the digital readers of the 21st century.

When Chandamama, the iconic children’s magazine that came into existence in the year of India’ independence, ran into financial trouble after the onslaught of digital technology took a heavy toll on its circulation, a Mumbai-based technology firm, Geodesic, came to its rescue. Geodesic bought a 94 per cent stake in Chandamama in 2007 with plans to put it on a digital platform. It would allow kids to buy and download its issues. However, Geodesic soon ran into legal troubles and is now facing provisional liquidation on charges of financial irregularities. As a result, the magazine ceased publication in 2013. An order by the Bombay High Court put Chandamama up for sale in January 2019. Published in 13 languages, the copies of Chandamama used to sell like hot cakes among children in different parts of India and held sway over their imagination across the country.

Nandan, another popular Children’s magazine in Hindi, also faced a drastic fall in sale in the first decade of the 21st century. As a result, HT Media, which owned Nandan, sold it to its subsidiary Hindustan Media Ventures in 2009. Nandan is now also available on digital platforms. Although Nandan mainly focuses on motivational stories from Indian mythology, it also introduces children to gems of world literature that they would remember for a lifetime. As B. Venkat Mani, an academic at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, notes in his book, Recoding World Literature: “My first exposure to vishva sahitya (world literature) was through a children’s magazine. In the early 1980s, the magazine carried a series called “Vishva Ki Mahan Kritiyan” (Great creations of the World), which featured abridged versions of ancient epics as well as novels and short stories from modern literatures of the world.”

Another children’s magazine, Champak has, however, grown in circulation and remained among the top 10 Hindi magazines in 2017, according to a readership survey published by the Readership Studies Council of India (RSCI). The magazine, published by the Delhi Press Group, was among the early ones to adopt digital technology. It is available in the digital format on Magzter, the global digital magazine newsstand. Published in eight languages, Champak has a circulation of over 300,000 copies. The magazine offers not only mesmerising accounts of animal characters but also leaves a profound impression on young minds in their formative years with its content on moral values. 

Digital revolution cuts both ways, and a lot depends on the right guidance by parents and teachers. As children spend more and more time on their digital devices, it becomes imperative for parents and teachers to ensure that the children use that time more fruitfully. One cannot deny that smart phones, tablets, and Kindle can make reading a pleasurable experience, and once the children fall in love with reading, there is no looking back. Technology, with all the apps available these days, can be used to inculcate reading habits into children and to turn even the most unwilling kid into a passionate reader. 

The digital revolution has also enhanced accessibility of these magazines. Additionally, regular promotions and marketing by digital newsstands are making digital versions more accessible via their appstore/Playstore, thereby enhancing visibility and spurring sales growth for both online and offline versions. The fact that Google has now its own digital newsstand in India makes the scene quite encouraging. 

Children’s magazines do not deal with news, but myths, mysteries, folktales, puzzles and morals. So unlike news magazines whose contents lose their relevance due to the speed at which news is disseminated through TV and online media these days, children’s magazines do not face an existential threat in terms of the relevance of contents. Children’s magazines serve as a storehouse of fascinating myths and mysteries that retain their spell on readers even when they have stepped into adulthood. Adult readers revising the old copies of their favourite magazines is quite usual. Many such readers prize their old copies and are willing to spend money on buying old editions. 

Amar Chitra Katha (ACK), the publisher that has captivated generations of Indian children, partnered with Blippar India to bring out its children’s monthly, Tinkle, in a new avatar as India’s first augmented reality print magazine for children. Tinkle, as a 360-degree magazine, combines the best of both print and digital, with games, and selfie opportunities with Suppandi, the comic character, to take children’s reading to a new level altogether. And it didn’t quite stop there, as the publisher has now a new YouTube channel with content based on stories from Tinkle. It is among the top five English magazines of India in terms of circulation and sells nearly three lakh copies a month.

The publisher is also collaborating with game developers to narrate stories interactively in line with the changing times when kids grow tapping screens of digital devices and taking selfies. Children’s magazines, like any other genre of publications, also need to be in tune with the changing times. No wonder the January 2019 edition of Tinkle has Ranveer Singh in his Simmba looks on its cover page with Suppandi, Tantri and Shikari Shambu in a selfie pose. Ranveer Singh’s joy knew no bounds and he put the picture of Tinkle magazine on his Instagram, saying, “I have to pinch myself to see if I’m dreaming. This is one of the fondest memories from my childhood. I grew up reading Tinkle comics. Can't believe I'm on the cover with SUPPANDI AND SHIKARI SHAMBU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I mean ....... I can't even .......... @tinklecomicsstudio #blessed #nodreamtoobig.”

Sensing business opportunities in India, Highlights for Children, the American publisher, joined hands with Delhi Press in 2013 to launch Highlights Champs and Highlights Genies. These American magazines, adapted for Indian children, are now available via subscription as well as at newsstands and book stores all over India. In the US, Highlights partnered with San Francisco-based start-up, Fingerprint in 2015, to take its interactive games beyond the crayons and colour pencils, to digital devices. Such a digital push helps the readership reconnect with the brand and hence boosts the offline circulation. 

So, publishers, parents and teachers need to adapt to new age technologies and help foster a learning environment where both offline and online versions of children’s magazines coexist and complement each other. Reimagining and redesigning the content would be needed for sustaining both the versions, but perhaps that’s the way forward.

Immortal tales

If the children’s magazines go digital, can the comics be far behind. Amar Chitra Katha, the publisher that has enthralled generations of comics readers, now offers a free ACK comics app. This app enables the comics reader to purchase, download and enjoy Amar Chitra Katha comics in their digital avatar. The app works across platforms — Windows, iOS and Android. Now the reader gets an enhanced reading experience and panel-by-panel view of digitally remastered comics. For those from the old school, the print version is also available. 

Amar Chitra Katha comics are popular not only in India but also abroad among the NRIs who want their children to remain culturally connected with their motherland. Their availability on digital platforms makes them more accessible to such an international audience. Comics have now also found a new role in raising public awareness of issues, which confront us daily, by leveraging the superheroes they have created. Diamond Toons has launched the ‘Swachh Bharat’ comic series, which portrays Chacha Chaudhary raising awareness about dry and wet garbage segregation. Created by cartoonist Pran in 1971, Chacha Chaudhary was conceived as a wise old man who can resolve problems with his razor-sharp intelligence. An iconic character like Chacha Chaudhary can be a great influencer and help bring about behavioural change among readers who are kids today but will be adults tomorrow. Digitalisation can help bring such socially meaningful comics to millions of readers on their fingertips.

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