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Ubiquity, Volume 2004 Issue November | BY Muhammad Abad al-Hameed 


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In the days of hot type, magazine content was set in film. This writer offered "intriguing" suggestions for making publications more appealing to international audiences.

Those were the days of hot metal type (late 1960s). Everything was done in Time magazine's offices and only film pages were flown to printing presses all over the world. Though Henry Luce, the founder-editor had died a few years earlier, his iron rule prevailed that editorial content of the magazine would be the same in every edition. Only advertising could be different.

Since I was a cover-to-cover reader, I would be disappointed when a cover story was on a baseball player, some city mayor or a local politician. I considered it a waste of space in international editions.

Keeping all the parameters and limitations in mind, I hit upon an idea. Without making any change in the editorial content, the magazine could be made more attractive for international audiences. I suggested that there might also be a longish story on a subject of international interest when the main story was on a subject of domestic interest. While the domestic edition would carry the main story with its cover, the longish international story may have its own cover in international editions. So, the international edition could be made more attractive for international audiences by simply changing the cover while the editorial content remained the same.

I got a personal letter from Henry Grunwald, managing editor, in appreciation of the "intriguing idea." (I never forgot the word "intriguing" because it is used with conspiratorial connotations in Pakistani English!)

When I mentioned Grunwald's letter to a Time correspondent, Louis Kraar, who was here to cover the 1971 war with India, he said it was a unique honor. "The managing editor is so busy that even we are unable to see him. A personal letter from him is a very rare thing indeed." He also told me that my idea was already in practice. I felt disappointed that nobody from Time had told me about implementation.

The idea caught on so soon that from two editions (domestic and international) it spawned separate covers for all regional editions (Europe, Asia, Latin America, etc.) The ultimate came when they started having separate covers even for sub-regional audiences. In a cover story on the Asian film industry, there was just one sentence on India. That was considered enough justification to put a well-known Indian actress, Parvin Bobby, on the cover for India! Later, several actresses made desperate efforts to get themselves on Time's cover, which would have been a badge of great prestige.

The Americans turned out to be more open-minded than their cousins across the Atlantic. The Economist, the prestigious British newsmagazine, in those days had many ads from London banks that were only to meet legal requirements. I suggested that the paper, printing and shipping costs of international editions could be saved by eliminating these ads. Then they should print international editions also in New Jersey and Singapore/Hong Kong to save on shipping costs and delivery time, without changing the editorial content. The publisher replied that the magazine's circulation was too small (68,000) to have additional printing points. I could not succeed in making him understand that it would work the other way round: additional printing points will increase circulation. After about 10 years, his successor did exactly what I had suggested (of course, without acknowledging my idea). Now the circulation is over 350,000.

However, I did succeed in persuading The Economist editor to stop continuous page numbers from the first issue in January, as the magazine had been doing for over a hundred years! The idea was to help the researchers, who would use the bound volumes of back issues. But a reader of a current issue was confused to see references to, say page 1757, rather than the issue date.

There is no end to the English idiosyncrasies, even among the supposedly most educated. The Economist still insists that it is a "newspaper," without clarifying the difference between a magazine and a newspaper.


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