A startup is publishing India’s first braille lifestyle magazine. Here’s how they break even.

White Print has brought about a revolution in braille writing — and braille advertising.

By Mili Semlani
Splice India

The shrill clatter of pointed keys, piercing through white paper at a frantic speed? Certainly not my idea of music. On a visit last month to the offices of braille lifestyle magazine White Print, I was expecting a standard printing press.

But this one didn’t have any sheets of glossy images flying in the air, nor the peculiar smell of ink. The pandemonic machines, I was told, produced India’s first and, so far, only English-language lifestyle magazine for the visually impaired. Now, that was music to my ears.

The braille press at the National Association for the Blind in Mumbai. Credit: Upasana Makati
The braille press at the National Association for the Blind in Mumbai. Credit: Upasana Makati

Founded in May 2013 by a 20-something former PR executive, White Print is a 64-page monthly that aims to bolster the braille literacy movement. India has about 12 million visually impaired people but lacks an equivalent focus on braille literacy.

With White Print, Upasana Makati wanted to change that.

Diversity of content

It’s like any other lifestyle magazine but more diverse, says Upasana, who was included on the Forbes India 30 Under 30 list in 2016.

“We don’t stick to the theme of a typical lifestyle magazine, and also include stories on world politics, global affairs, sports, technology, culture, fashion, technology, inspiring human stories, short stories and even reader contributions,” she says.

Founder and owner of White Print Upasana Makati wants to revolutionize the world of braille literacy. Credit: Kanishk Seth

Readers say that while they may be visually impaired, they want to read about more than just topics relating to their specific situation “The community does just about everything and they are no different, so we want to cater to them in that particular way,” says Upasana.

For this purpose, White Print has a content-sharing partnership with Caravan, a longform magazine focusing on politics and culture, and also relies on paid freelance writers across India. “We are open to more editorial tie-ups to diversify the voice and foster inclusion. I am very conscious that our readers are exposed to well-informed global writers and their opinions too,” she said.

Readers can also contribute to the magazine, and contributions from people living or working with the visually impaired are encouraged. A Canadian scholar based in Hyderabad, Nikki Cochrane, has a popular column about raising her visually impaired child.

People and profits

White Print is a for-profit company. To that end, it has brought about a revolution not only in braille writing, but also in braille advertising.

While advertisers initially shied away from the idea of matte print ads without the traditional accompanying images, White Print offered them access to the world’s largest visually impaired population—many of whom also happen to be aware and empowered consumers.

“We have a lot of ads from corporates like Tata India, Vodafone, Aircel, Mahindra and Mahindra, Raymond, Pidilite group, and Coca Cola India,” Upasana says, adding that the magazine is breaking even. While most ads are text-heavy, there is scope for innovation. Coca-Cola India’s musical ad, which ran in the first issue, played a song each time a reader opened the center spread. It also bagged them an innovation award at the Goa Adfest.

“We are dealing with a big perception shift. Any organisation working with a specific group is tagged as an NGO,” Upasana says.

“But we are not one; we do not provide any tax exemptions or accept donations. So it is challenging for us to convince advertisers. But having a few big names on board has helped.”

A bootstrapped business

The magazine is sold for an annual subscription of 300 Indian rupees ($4.60) and readers can pay online or send money orders. While it only has a monthly circulation of about 300, with 150 of those copies going to individual subscribers, White Print is delivered to old age homes, libraries, schools and hospitals across the country, amplifying its reach.

Early issues of the magazine. Credit: Upasana Makati
Early issues of the magazine. Credit: Upasana Makati

As a bootstrapped startup, the magazine doesn’t have a marketing budget. A combination of social media efforts, external media outreach and partnerships has helped to spread the word about the product. White Print also works with NGOs, which stock the magazine in their libraries and share it with their networks.

Ummehaani Bagasarwala, an administrative assistant in Mumbai who has been a subscriber of the magazine since its inception, describes it as her “bestest buddy”.

“It empowers me to share news and updates with friends and family instead of them relaying it to me,” she says. “I eagerly await its arrival every month.”

Mili has spent four years exploring and reporting on the region as a writer and media consultant. She's worked on content strategy for Newscorp's fintech startup in India and edited Indonesia's DestinAsian luxury travel magazine. She also writes tech policy white papers.

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