The regional magazines are very important for Rotary because they give regional news in the local language, something The Rotarian cannot do, said RI President K R Ravindran while participating in the Asia Pacific Regional Editors seminar held in Seoul end-April. It was attended by Editors and Advisory Board representatives from Australia, Philippines, Japan, Thailand, Korea and India.
These magazines not only provide local coverage, but also “recognise the work of Rotary clubs, which is a reward in itself and you can cover local events much faster.” Giving the example of the recent earthquake in Nepal, Ravindran said in such natural calamities, “often, by the time Rotary moves and reacts, it is one or two months after the event, and you’ve lost the premier spotlight. This time I was determined that within a few days we should move and bring out to the Rotary world what we plan to do. So I spoke to (RI Secretary) John Hewko and got through to Rasheeda at Rotary News and am so happy that the appeal is going to be brought out in the Indian magazine (May issue) which will be printed in a day or two, which is very timely. Otherwise Rotarians send money to Red Cross!”
So the role of the regional magazines was crucial; “you are a great asset to us; we recognise your value and appreciate your role and we see an increased orchestration between all of you, The Rotarian, the Communications division of RI in the years to come.”
But Ravindran also did some plain speaking to the assembled editors at the meet. Urging David Alexander and Michele Moiron from the RI Communications division to devise ways to monitor the quality of the regional magazines, he said the quality of these magazines was intrinsically connected to the branding of Rotary. “So there must be some standard for every magazine. I want to know if you can ensure that even the smallest magazines have some decent standard; otherwise you shouldn’t even let them publish it.”
RI’s biggest asset
He also urged the advisory boards in charge of Rotary regional magazines to bring in “transparency and accountability,” particularly with the finances and this information should be shared with Rotarians. “You must understand we have handed over to you our biggest asset — our membership.”
Ravindran recalled that as Treasurer on the RI Board, he had even suggested that each magazine should pay a royalty to RI, “because we’ve handed to you our entire asset base. Some of you were upset about it too, but we bring in the rule that each member should subscribe to the magazine and we let you keep the money! At that time we were paying you to print the President’s message (not to Rotary News) which I thought was ridiculous.”
Ravindran asked those magazines which do not have a digital version to go in for one by 2016 or 2017 as that was the future. He related an anecdote about digital media and the future. On his way to Seoul for this meeting, transiting through an airport, he saw a child seated on the floor with a book. She was barely one and “I saw her doing something strange. She kept swiping across the page with her finger and I wondered what she wanted to do. Then I realised that she was treating the book as a tablet and trying to turn the page!” But while that was the future, “I believe for a long time both paper and digital books will stay on.”
No fan of digital books
Ravindran admitted that he was not a great fan of digital books, even though he had a few loaded on his tablet. “I find digital books painfully ugly, they are really irritating sometimes; they look like print but can’t really be designed or typeset like that.
At the Korea Regional Editors seminar it felt good to note that in the Asia Pacific region Rotary News/Rotary Samachar, the Indian regional magazine, is the cheapest at sub-$7 (Rs 420) and along with Rotary Korea and The Rotary-No-Tomo (Japan), we have the highest number of pages at 84. Rotary Down Under, the Australian magazine, with 60 pages, is the costliest at $32. The Japanese magazine is priced at $24, the same as The Rotarian outside the US. Rotary Korea costs $13 and Philippine Rotary $12, but only for bulk delivery in clubs. If you want it delivered at your home, as copies of Rotary News/Rotary Samachar are dispatched in India, the Rotarians are charged an annual subscription of $21. The Thailand Rotary magazine brings out only 6 issues a year, charging $1 per copy.
Those who have an online version charge the same price. Nobody had dual pricing like we did, till the parity was removed from the coming Rotary year. It should be noted that in the US, where The Rotarian’s annual subscription is $12, Rotarians pay the same amount ($12) for both print and e-version. Also, not all the magazines in this region have an e-version yet, as we do!
Michele Moiron, Director, Language Services, explained that recently it had been decided to charge subscribers of The Rotarian outside the US, $12 for the e-version, instead of $24 as online delivery of content has no fee, whether it is accessed in the US or outside. Those outside the US, including in India, pay $24 for their print copy, mainly to factor in the shipping charges. Incidentally, the Indian subscribers to the print copy of The Rotarian are paying almost four times the price members pay for a copy of Rotary News or Rotary Samachar.
However good the cover looks with a hi-resolution image, it is just the screen and you can’t have either the feel or the texture of a paper book. And the most irritating thing is that you can’t flip the pages and can see only a page at a time.” Of course there were advantages, the scrolling was easier and there were search options as well as synchronisation with audio books.
But Rotary print magazines “are here to stay for some time even though online presence is necessary, because access is limited in some countries, particularly in rural areas,” he added.
In her address, Michele Moiron, Director of Language Services, RI, recognised the need for better interaction and communication between the Editors of regional magazines and said at RI the endeavour would be to encourage new ideas and innovative suggestion from across the Rotary world and share the best of the articles carried by different magazines.
She said while some of the Rotary regional magazines were thriving and doing very well, others were struggling and piling up losses. Some of those in the latter category had survived till now — such as the Russian magazine — thanks to purely individual efforts and volunteer work. Similarly, the magazine in Mexico was struggling, and the one in Venezuela was ridden with problems as the country’s economy was not in good shape. Same was the story when it came to quality, with the graph varying in various countries/regions.
Melito Salazar Jr, Editor-in-Chief, Rotary Philippine, described his efforts to improve the fortunes of his magazine by bringing in ads. “From this July we are going to make it available in bookstores as we want to take our magazine to non-Rotarians too.”
The meeting discussed the possibility of extending the scope of regional magazines beyond the Rotary world and open subscriptions to non-Rotarians but it was felt that in a competitive media environment, such an effort can succeed only if the magazine has sufficient non-Rotary content and its overall content is of exceptionally good quality.
Past RI Director Sang Koo Yun, from Korea, urged the regional editors to promote the Seoul Convention, to be held next June, in their forthcoming issues. Added Ravindran, “Those who attend the Convention will have a great time; I have rarely come across hosts better than the Koreans. I’m so happy that I’ve inherited a convention held in Korea. A President has no control over the choice of the venue; it is just luck of the draw!”
Pictures by Rasheeda Bhagat