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Monday, July 30, 2012

National Geographic Traveller India

I don’t think that across the globe someone who reads magazines and he does not recognize yellow framed magazine- National Geographic. Though in India don’t even have its Indian edition, still we all know what this yellow frame stands for. National Geographic magazine undoubtedly is most respected for its editorial strength – in terms of research, writing and of course photography.

National Geographic Traveller (NGT) is another publication surrounded with yellow frame and has earned same respect for its journalistic values. Its Indian edition is launched by ACK media (very well known for Amar Chitra Katha, Tinkle & Karadi Tales) this month where it has to compete with other existing international & Indian publications like Conde Nast Traveller, Lonely Planet Magazine, Outlook Traveller, Travel Plus, Geo etc to create its own mindshare.

Publishers of NGT India had already claimed in media that Indian edition of NGT will be carrying around 80% of local generated content. I was so thrilled to pick up the copy of the launch issue, but my entire excitement got vanished the moment I started browsing inside the issue. It disappoints a reader at many fronts when he is an serious admirer of these Yellow framed magazines and he expects same level of editorial & production standards here in this as well. When expectations are very high from your product, then even a tiniest flaw or carelessness becomes unbearable… and here in this magazine, the magnitude of mistakes and negligence is very high.

Magazine is quite thoughtfully structured and is divided into logical sections & subsections like InFocus, Journeys, Voices, Navigate, Get Going, Short Breaks etc. Content density is good as this issue has lots of stories to read for the month. As happens in such travel magazines, the articles and photographs are contributed by various writers-photographers from various parts of the globe. And that diversity, on one hand brings variety of flavors in the magazine, on the other hand it brings inconsistencies also and that can be very dangerous if not handled very carefully and intelligently.

The same I felt here in NGT where entire issue doesn’t look one single issue of one magazine but it reads as a good collection of articles taken from various sources just to accommodate stories in each subsection to make the issue complete. Inconsistency in structuring an article and writing shows quite immature presentation that I was not expecting at least from brand like NGT. Main cover story of launch issue on Himalayas is also structured so badly that you lose your interest of reading a few lines only and you just leave story immediately and turn the page. It is very common mistake what many writers/editors do when they lose their focus from where they ideate or conceptualize a story and then later they take story in absolutely different direction.

Copy editing is again not at its best and subbing is also substandard. Many of the stories are having widows & orphans which could be easily avoided. Language or writing & article structuring is not in sync with each other. There are many other mistakes which show lousy proofing work in the magazine. Yes, the mistakes might be tiny but even those are not expected from a brand like NGT.

Copy for the main story on the cover is very straight – it neither provokes nor invites a reader. It should have carried a leader that could have support main story and could have given a direction to the reader to think. You cannot leave it to the readers that they will understand themselves what this story is carrying inside the magazine in more than 40 pages!! They could have easily mentioned here the key attractions of many articles like Assam, Himachal Pradesh and Dhauladhar mountains which all together have made this one big cover story.

Other stories on the cover are also put just thoughtlessly with average copy… and bottom line is kept there with no sense at all.

NatGeo is respected for its visual presentation… especially for the photographs it carries. But beautiful photographs need same standard of design support so that those pictures can look at their best. NGT Indian edition disappoints at both. A very few pictures are there those remind you that you are reading NatGeo product but the moment you start browsing pages and you go through entire issue, you don’t feel to look at many pictures again. Is this the destiny of Indian edition of such a brilliant magazine title? It is really appreciable that publisher of NGT India has decided to create maximum portion of content local here but at this standard? Selection and editing of photographs is so poor that hardly a few photographs stop a reader and hook him to look at them again and again otherwise mostly are going to disappoint those who will buy this magazine for keeping its Photography quality in mind.

Design and layout is also flawed across the magazine. Yes, it has maintained consistency at most of the pages but lost at many places also. Design elements like frames, drop caps, slugs, photo captions, leading are used without using strict guidelines. It looks like that various articles of the magazine are designed in complete isolation. Even in the same section, two articles have no uniformity. And I can’t see a great design out of this that creativity could be an excuse for doing so. Rather, a couple of pages are designed so flawed that raise doubt on designers skills also. Layouts of some stories are just horrible – completely flawed.

Cover of the inaugural issue has its yellow frame as its identity with a different (Indian) tag line – Nobody knows this world better. Then there is one golden inked peel out sticker sort of element on the mast head which reads - Hello India (another example of average copy)! Cover photograph is excellent but I don’t think that it was the best photograph to put on the cover. A great photograph cannot be always the best for the cover of the magazine, they need to understand this. How can be a designer so careless while designing main cover of such an esteemed magazine and that too for the launch issue, I can’t understand - No discipline – No consistency – No balance!! Story elements are not aligned properly, improper leading, elements are just placed randomly without considering any logic, sense, sizes or weight. 

Infographs used along with the stories are few but good while photo-captions are placed inconsistently.

As a common reader, my expectations from this magazine were very high- in every aspect. Nat Geo is highly regarded for its photographs, and printing quality plays very critical role to present them at their best. But final output also depends upon the prepress work which in NGT India it lacks a lot. Many photographs are not edited/touched up well and that is why those photographs are not standing out well on the page. Some are spoiled because some pages are not printed in accurate color so they either are having other cast on them or looking dull in absence of right mix of colors. Pictures with cast don’t match with the reputation of this brand and you as a reader don’t expect such quality from this magazine. Registration is just perfect. Printing density is fine but looks poor only on those pages where ink is low.

Because of slightly wider from a regular size and of course ‘yellow frame’ attracts you on the newsstands. 180 pages (cover to cover) of Inaugural issue are carrying good enough content to read in a month at the cover price of Rs.120. Paper quality used for the cover is just perfect, so is the center fold inside the magazine. Inside pages of the magazines are good that helps to produce clear printing.
Travelling vertical in Indian publishing market is getting very competitive now. Since there are already well-established brands exist and other international popular brands are also entered, it is going to be very tough to reach at top of genre position in India. To reach there and to stay there at top position NGT has to control over the content, structure, quality and its presentation. Then only it can sustain its global reputation here also in India. Otherwise if it continues to do as it is done in inaugural issue, it will also lose its charm as many other reputed brands had entered in India and their Indian editions failed to hold their readers who picked up initial issues based upon their international reputation.