Taj is not merely an industry magazine, nor is it a PR vehicle: Dr Rakshanda Jalil
It is not every day that a publication brought out by a hospitality group holds its own in the print media market, and that too for 50 long years. ‘Taj’ magazine, the award-winning publication from Indian Hotels’ Company Ltd (IHCL), South Asia’s largest hospitality firm, has been showcasing the undiscovered and less-talked about aspects of India. The magazine features articles that cover Indian art, culture, cuisine, travel and people. The luxury magazine has won accolades from readers across India and the world for its exceptional content, beautiful imagery and outstanding production values. It is not seen merely as a corporate publication or a PR vehicle.
‘Taj’ magazine features content authored by some of the finest writers and experts hailing from different fields such as art, cuisine, culture, etc. The previous editions of the magazine have focussed on a diverse range of topics from botanical art to film heritage, from traditional Kashmiri cuisine to celebrating the flower sellers of Delhi and so on.
Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the iconic ‘Taj’ magazine started publishing in the digital format and is shared with the exclusive 10 lakh+ readership base over email. The magazine is also available in the digital format on the hotel website. Furthermore, guests staying at the hotel can access the magazine digitally in their rooms by scanning the QR code. The next edition of the ‘Taj’ magazine is expected to be released in June 2021, which will be available in print as well as digital formats. This will further amplify the reach to 20 lakh readers.
In an exclusive interaction with Adgully, Dr Rakshanda Jalil, Editor, Taj Magazine, speaks at length about the evolution of the magazine in its 50 years of existence, the eclectic range of coverage, transitioning to the digital platform amid the pandemic times and more.
The Taj magazine is a very prestigious and niche magazine, which has been in existence for nearly 50 years. What has been the secret to keep coming with great content and stories regularly which interests your core audience?
The Taj magazine covers a variety of subjects: arts, literature, travel, food and, in its broadest sense, culture. We commission these articles especially for the magazine, keeping in mind that our readers – primarily the Taj guests, who are well-travelled, well-read and generally well-informed people. Our contributors are amongst the best in their chosen fields and each issue always has some instantly recognisable, internationally known personality. It is the quality of writing, I think, that has consistently set the Taj magazine apart over the last 50 years. It is not merely an ‘industry’ magazine, nor is it a PR vehicle. In its broadest sense, it is an extension of Indian Hotel Company’s ethos.
How do you go about planning each of your editions and where do you get your inspiration to arrive at a particular theme? What kind of process do you follow to ensure that your magazine comes on time and there is a continuous flow of rich content?
We seldom have a theme. Instead we have a range of subjects to choose from – architecture, built heritage, environment, ecology, social development, art, cinema, books, archives, city planning and so on. Since the canvas we have given ourselves is very vast, we can pick and choose the best writers and the most interesting and topical subjects.
For instance, last year (2020) was the 551st birth anniversary of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism. So, we commissioned a special essay on the Guru’s life by a very renowned Chandigarh-based journalist and writer for the occasion. Similarly, the Aga Khan Trust for Culture has completed a very prestigious conservation project of the Qutub Shahi Tombs in Hyderabad; so we commissioned an essay on the conservation project, the history of this cluster of tombs and why a project such as this is timely and of cultural significance. In our forthcoming issue, we have a photo essay on how people from different walks of life – some famous, others not so famous – have coped with self-isolation during the pandemic.
While some subjects are timeless and always likely to evoke interest in the informed readers, some topics are timely. We are mindful of important anniversaries as well as occasions and sometimes commission articles to coincide with these dates. At the same time, each of our issues is a collector’s item and so its contents are not confined to a shelf life. I would say, like National Geographic, you can pick it up and read its contents at any time now or some years later; they will always be relevant, informative and interesting.
What is the kind of audience that the Taj magazine caters to? Could you profile them and elaborate on the audience?
Like I said, well-read, well-travelled, well-informed readers. The sort of people who stay at the Taj hotels on work or leisure. I am told that since the magazine is created with such high content and visual standards, many like to take it home with them. Over the years, it has built a reputation as a collector’s item. People like to savour the writings in these handsome, well-produced book-sized magazines. Our writers range from serious academics in both Indian and foreign universities to journalists and well-known writers and area specialists.
The next edition of the magazine is in the pipeline. What’s going to be the theme and overall content one can expect in that edition?
The Taj magazine is bi-annual – published in June and December each year. The next issue is expected to be out in June 2021. Again, it’s a mixed bag with essays ranging from an article on the Partition Museum in Amritsar to an autobiographical piece by actor Naseeruddin Shah on his early days of struggle in the film industry, when he ran away from home to work in the movies. Other articles are on the Jim Corbett National Park by writer Namita Gokhale, a memoir of food and childhood memories, a glimpse into the Guruvayur temple in Kerala by photographer-writer Pepita Seth, an essay on the medieval traveller Ibn Battuta’s southern sojourn in Daulatabad and the Ajanta caves, a first-person account of the famous painter Jatin Das on his journey as an artist and his plans to set up a first-of-its-kind pankha (fan) museum in Orissa, a photo essay on social distancing during the pandemic and a luminous piece on Thomas Arnold’s famous book, ‘The Light of Asia’, that single-handedly introduced Buddhism to the West, by Jairam Ramesh. As you will note, our reach is pan-Indian and, at the same time, international. We like to have something to cater to a diverse palette of interests.
Slowly but subtly, we are also introducing a glimpse of Tajness – be it through our staff, properties, art holdings or other things, through the Taj magazine. Not in an overpowering manner, but very subtly. For instance, this issue has a feature on the extensive art holdings scattered in the various Taj properties; a casual Taj guest can possibly have no idea of the priceless art works in the group.
Since I took over two years ago, I have introduced two regular features – one, a write-up on a new Taj property (such as The Connemara in Chennai, The Taj Rishikesh and, in this issue, Chia Kutir in Darjeeling), or an essay introducing a hidden gem from among the older, established properties (such as the golf instructor and Head of Horticulture at the Taj Exotica in Goa). The second is a profile on a chef from among one of the various Taj properties. In the forthcoming issue, I am writing about Chef Sriram V Aylur, the chef at the Michelin-starred restaurant Quillon, the London Taj. A profile such as this introduces our readers to those aspects of the Taj group that may not be too well known.
The magazine is largely subscription driven. How do you encourage new readers? Any promotion tools you use to increase awareness for the magazine?
The magazine is offered at no fee or cost to the reader. It is placed in every hotel room in all Taj properties. Since the pandemic, we have started a digital version that any guest can access. It can also be accessed by Taj Inner Circle members from anywhere in the world via a link shared through our regular emails and newsletters. An archive of issues from the past two years is found on the Taj website. It can be accessed by anyone.
What is the revenue model for the magazine?
The magazine is completely self-sustaining. It runs entirely on revenue through ads.