It’s seeking to further its connection with its core audience: those from rural India or those interested in it. Rural newspaper Gaon Dastak, which hit the stands just as 2018 was starting, is now looking at going transmedia with an audio feed planned for handsets and short TV snippets on the anvil for TV news channels and also spreading internationally.
It was founded by veteran journalist Aasheesh and Mahendra Kudiya to cater to the rural readers of India. Gaon Dastak operates across Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan and Haryana. The Raibareilly publication has a team of 10 full-timers and scores of stringers all over India. Its circulation has gone up from 20,000 copies at inception to 25,000 as of now, according to Misra.
The 10-page ₹6 priced weekly has a claimed readership of around 2,50,000. Misra said that the price tag was not too high as rural Indians spend about ₹36 a month for their feature phone services. Therefore, ₹30 a month for a newspaper which keeps them informed about developments important to them is quite reasonable.
Mahendra has plans to increase the readership and has drawn up ground activities to enable that to happen. Reading sessions are planned for schools and at panchayat gatherings, where reporters will read the newspaper to locals. Additionally, it is roping in milk companies and SIM card distributors to further the availability of Gaon Dastak.
A small marketing and sales team in Delhi and Lucknow has been pitching the publication to advertisers and pulling in revenue from mainly local ones. Mahendra’s game plan is to attract large multinational brands and he is in conversation with agencies such as GroupM and Mindshare for the same. He believes that Gaon Dastak will create job opportunities for rural youth.
“For instance, we are planning to call in young people in Kanaura village in UP and train them to be journalists and distributors. What this will do is if you have a reporter and distributor in every block, you are able to create a lot of white-collar talent which will give a voice to those regions,” says Mahendra.
Mahendra believes it is now time to take the voice of Indian villages across transmedia platforms such as television and mobile. An in-house team is in the process of scripting snippets to be telecast on news channels. “Talks are on with two national channels for the same,” he says, without revealing the names.
“The ideas for the television snippets will grow from the newspaper. The vision is to eventually have a rural TV channel,” he shares. Mahendra plans to launch the TV snippets by the end of the year. Gaon Dastak has got rural readers asking for more; Mahendra is targeting a huge jump in readership.
Additionally, on the anvil is what he calls India’s first audio newspaper. Mahendra (an experienced radio “storyteller” courtesy of his show on Big FM 92.7) is gearing up to create a dial-in audio feed for mobile users. The service will work on a subscription basis and will be available in the next 4 to 5 months. Talks are on with several telecom service providers.
Going forward, Mahendra plans to take Gaon Dastak overseas, catering to non-resident Indians (NRIs). “We are looking at setting up Gaon Dastak chapters worldwide. We have received interest from folks in Singapore, Washington, London,” he elaborates.
Mahendra used his personal savings and even sold his home in New Delhi to launch Gaon Dastak. He now hopes to rope in investors to help take his pet project to the next level.