Dr Pradeep Mahapatra
In the era of digital transformation of print media, during the middle of 2023, a new magazine entitled Country Highway was launched in the United States of America with print-only edition. A highest number of print newspapers and magazines were closed with emergence of digital media in the US in comparison to other country. Associated Press report mentioned that by 2022 two print newspapers continued to cease publication in the US per week. Price Waterhouse Coopers report claimed that 40 among 100 largest circulated print newspapers spent significant investments in their digital editions during the period. In such an ecosystem, steps initiated for publication of a print-only magazine attracted attention of media analysts.
Country Highway is a magazine in the format of a traditional broadsheet print newspaper. It is published bi-monthly, six issues in a year. Price of the magazine is fixed about Rs 700 a copy. Annual subscribers have to pay Rs 4,000 per six issues and 3 year subscription for 18 issues will be charged Rs 11,000 to receive copies delivered at their address. The layout of the publication follows print newspapers of US during nineteenth century. Famous writers including Charles Dickens published serialised novels in such periodicals. Editions of the magazine will carry 20 broadsheet pages each.
The editorial policy of Country Highway focus on in-depth stories. On onehand, preparation of such writings takes time and on the otherhand, the readers have to spend more time for attentive reading of serious writings. The publication “reports on the political and spiritual crises” prevalent in US. It has “regular columns about agriculture, civil liberties, animals, herbal medicine, and living off the grid mentally and physically, essays about literature and art, an entire section devoted to music, ” mentioned its landing website.
The publication believes on “commissioning the best writers to write anything about which they feel passionate”. Such editorial policy was adopted by weekly NewYorker and monthly The Atlantic long ago. It appears that the editorial stand, format and circulation style of the newly launch swims against the popular trend in contemporary publication world. No content published in the magazine will be available online. A reader has to subscribe the publication to access the writings. The magazine is available for retail sale at a select books and records shops in USA and Canada.
Donald Rosenfeld is the publisher of Country Highway. He was the president of the American film making company Merchant-Ivory Production for 12 long years between 1986 and 1998. Merchant-Ivory made about 50 films and received six Oscar awards. Films including Householder, Shakespearewalla, Bombay Talkies, Heat and Dust and In-Custody’s storyline were based on India. Rosenfeld carries experiences in art and culture in the international level. His long relationship with writers, intellectuals and academicians serves as resource for publication of the magazine.
In a media ecosystem marked with US consumers spending time up to 10 hours online daily, launch of a magazine in nineteenth century newspaper format surprised many. David Samuels, editor of Century Highway said, “People read differently on the printed page then they do on screen. The printed page is an immersive experience without constant distractions.” There remain a section of consumers who prefer printed newspapers, magazines and books even in the changed media order.
The inaugural issue of Country Highway came out in August 2023. The publication sources revealed that 25,000 copies were sold out. Second issue was published in October 2023. It is being told that the magazine could achieve the target for subscription sales fixed for year three in the first three weeks of rolling out of the first issue. The publishers did not arrange any publicity campaign for the launch, relied upon word of month.
Launch of Country Highway and success of the business model in the primary stage puts forth a few realisations. Firstly, excellence in creativity is the key to success of any media platform. It can attract public attention. Secondly, the traditional publication periodicity of print products may reduce from daily, weekly and fortnightly into monthly, bi-monthly or quarterly during the ‘new normal’. Thirdly, consumers are ready to pay for quality media products. A 20 page broadsheet newspaper-magazine pieced at Rs 700 a copy is an example.
Fourthly, consumers are searching for quality media products. Their numbers may be small and the business involved may not be big. But, a slot for print media exists. Fifthly, technological advancement and financial investment can not guarantee making a media product popular. Excellence in creativity can only serve as key to achieve popularity. Success stories of alternative media in US may not adequately reflect in markets elsewhere. However, definitely open-up possibilities for experimentation in creativity.
(English translation of the original Odia newsletter by the author circulated on October 13, 2023. https://tinyletter.com/pradeepmahapatra/letters/message-323. It is an open-access content, free for translation and reproduction)
Dr. Pradeep Mahapatra is a retired faculty of Journalism, Berhampur University, Odisha.https://about.me/pradeepmahapatra
Alberge, Dalya. America’s new print-only newspaper reinvents the art of reading slowly. www.theguardian.com. October 1, 2023