Readers’ editor blog: Our Indian readers, and why there’s more of them

David Payne At the beginning of 2013 bmj.com’s most accessed article in India typically received between 100 and 200 views. In three months the figure has more than doubled.

In the first full week of January there were 9,784 visits to bmj.com from India. The figure has been rising since. Last week there were 12,121.

In November 2012 we ran our first online poll for readers in India. Should the UK withdraw aid to India, we asked. The poll was live for two weeks, and it received just 64 votes, with 40 saying no. Our latest India poll, “Should AYUSH doctors be allowed to prescribe allopathic drugs?” received 217 votes over two weeks. Of that figure, 114 readers (52.5%) said no.

There have been other modest gains. We now have more bloggers from India,  including neurosurgeon and telemedicine guru Krishnan Ganapathy, and Soumyadeep Bhaumik, a medical researcher and freelance writer who also wrote the recent BMJ practice article on snakebite. Soumyadeep also writes regular news items for us.

What changed? Last month the BMJ’s online edition for India was formally launched with events in four cities—starting at the British High Commission in Delhi, and then moving to Kolkata, Mumbai, and Chennai. Hundreds of people attended the receptions, many of whom had travelled for hours to join us. The events were hosted by editor in chief Fiona Godlee and BMJ India editor Anita Jain, a graduate of Seth GS Medical College and KEM Hospital in Mumbai.

What do readers make of BMJ India? In the very near future we will be running an online survey (we just surveyed our US readers, and received more than 1,000 responses in less than two weeks), but responses to the editorial we published last month to mark its formal launch encapsulate the pros and cons of “editionalising,” either online, or in print.

Prashant Sharma, a haematopathologist at the Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research in Chandigarh and a BMJ reader since medical school. said of BMJ India: “I’d be interested in its choice of perspectives and opinion… I browse the British edition for its very distinctive cultural insights and takes on the goings-on in the world and the UK (its one of the 2-3 international journals I choose to do that).

“I’m a bit ambiguous about whether the local edition will be able to offer me any extra juice worth my time in that regard. After all, there are many Indian journals and eNewsletters I can refer to about medicine in India…But mostly, its very flattering to note that readers like me figure on your list of priorities! All the best!”

I told Dr Sharma in my response that the aim of BMJ India was to showcase Indian content but at the same time include articles from elsewhere of interest to our readership. Visitors from India see the India homepage automatically, but readers can flip between our other online editions (UK, US, and international), to see what else is being published. I assured him that we will always include articles of global relevance on all our editions. And our online table of contents lists all articles published in the previous seven days. You can access it at this link.

B M Hegde, editor in chief of the J Science of Healing Outcomes, Mangalore, welcomed the new edition, but detected a hidden agenda—better business for the journal. “The Indian economy is looking up and people have more money in their pockets. They are likely to subscribe more and more, more so because of the BMJ’s reputation. Sheer numbers make good business sense,” he said.

Dr Hegde is right. Journals do need to make money through subscriptions, sponsorship, and advertising, but I don’t think the BMJ conceals its need to make money. The income we raise helps to pay salaries and offset the costs of providing free content such as open access research. A video produced to mark the launch describes other free content available on the site.

Price

The journal’s current price did get raised at the launch events in Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai, and Mumbai. We are currently working on a new pricing structure. Details will be unveiled soon, and any price change (both for international and personal subscriptions) will ultimately be decided by BMJ colleagues based in India. We hope eventually to set our price for India in rupees so that isn’t subject to the vagaries of international exchange rates.

Print

Ranjan Kumar Singh, a physician at Khagaria District Hospital, said: “It would be better to have Indian edition of the journal in print too. A few years back BMJ had a South Asia edition in print form, which was edited locally.” Dr Singh is referring to the 2004 theme issue, which was very popular at the time and is still widely discussed by readers in India.

Technology has since moved on, so we have no current plans to publish a one-off issue in print. We are confident that our India offering is an improvement on this—regular news, comment, research and education of interest to readers in India, showcased in an online edition for India.  We also plan at some point to produce an special issue for iPad and Android devices, similar to the one we published last week about the Mid Staffs inquiry report. Perhaps even an app focused on Indian content, similar to the current one based on the print edition. Tell us what you think, what issues we should be covering, your thoughts on pricing, and what formats would work best.

Awards

A second exciting development in India is the announcement of the first BMJ Group Awards for India, taking place in 2014.  The first BMJ Awards are currently held in London each year. The first took place in 2009. Since then some of its winners have come from India.

“We hope to make it the “Oscars” of Indian medicine,” said Tim Brooks, CEO of BMJ Group.

David Payne is editor, bmj.com, and readers’ editor.

  • Indeed. I can myself vouch for hte fact that more content “relevant” to me has made me visit more and more often the blogs and the site. However, I feel that the process for blogging and contributions to BMJ are still not very clear to me. For example, I tried looking for a policy on blog contributions, but couldnt find one.

    Also, paid premium versions of BMJ like the one in the international edition are still far off for India, I feel. In the international edition/UK edition, you have enough “locally relevant” information to be able to charge a premium for. But in the case of India, the content in terms of research or blog is still little. One can only hope this will increase and one can only hope that you will not set up a thick paywall between us and the content, if and when that happens. Meanwhile, enjoying the India focus. 🙂

  • dpayne

    Dear NS Prashanth – thanks very much for your feedback, and I’m pleased that you are enjoying the India focus. We are going to publish our blogs guidance as we’re keen to attract new bloggers, and will keep readers posted about any pricing changes.

  • JDobson

    Dear NS Prashanth,

    Many thanks for your interest in blogging for the BMJ. We have published blogs guidance at http://www.bmj.com/about-bmj/resources-authors/article-types/blogs
    Best wishes,
    Juliet

  • @jhwalker:disqus @dpayne:disqus Thanks for the responses. Noted the link and tweeted it too. Will get down to contributing too sometime!