The Evolution of Khabar
This issue, besides being our anniversary one, also marks another milestone in the evolution of Khabar?our shift to an all enamel (glossy) paper, a step up from our old newsprint format. To commemorate this, we indulge in a trip down memory lane?
BY RAJESH JYOTISHI
"How old do you think Khabar is?" When we ask this question, we generally get answers like "three years," "five years" or sometimes, "eight years." It is hard to believe that we have been publishing for 13 years. Many of those who have come into this area recently, get the impression that Khabar has always been big in our community. When we tell them of our modest beginnings, they are surprised.
We started out at as a coupon-mailer in October 1992. The community at that time was comparatively young. Our first mailing was around 3,000 households; out of which, about 700 were bad addresses!
It is said that necessity is the mother of all inventions. It was kind of true for us too. I had started my insurance business at the time and wanted to advertise to the Indian community, and Mehul Parekh, a friend and a graphic designer, wanted to promote his business in the community. At that time, there were no other publications serving the community?except local association bulletins that were published periodically and to a very select group of members.
We wanted to start out as a newsletter or a magazine, but there wasn't enough going on in the community at that time to warrant such a format. So, we settled for a coupon mailer. We wanted to do something different. We wanted our advertisers to get the maximum return on their dollars, without subscription fees or membership dues. We also wanted to include everyone within our community irrespective of the religion or regional background. And we also wanted to include the people from Pakistan and Bangladesh because we share the common need for the goods and services.
We had a pretty good team to start with. I had some publishing and printing experience from my previous employer, Mehul was a professional graphic designer, and Parthiv Parekh, another friend who also fancied the idea of a community media, volunteered to take on selling ad space.
Even with all that, we had a slight problem. We didn't have any money! We couldn't pay for professional printing and mailing expenses, not to mention the postage, even with the initial ad revenue. We had charged around $150 to $200 per coupon and with twelve paid advertisers in the first issue, we had a whopping $2200 to get the first issue out. So Parthiv and I deposited $300 each into a bank account and Khabar was on its way. We had built our own database by going through all of the community services associations, adding them manually and by going through the phone book looking for surnames that sounded familiar. We got a boost when Iqbalbhai Patel from Taj Mahal Imports shared his mailing list with us. Till this day, we are still grateful.
Fortunately, we had some more good friends?like Ted Lindman at my previous employer, Construction Market Data, (now a well-known national construction information company known as The CMD Group)?who allowed us to use the office facilities after 6:00 p.m., including their printing and mailing equipment. We would buy our own paper, go into their offices once a month in the evenings, after everyone had left, do all of our production and be gone by morning. Just like a bunch of elves. My other good friend, Doug Buurman, would help us put addresses on the envelopes on a high speed addressing equipment.
We continued this process for about 18 months, until my friend was promoted to another department. Each coupon mailer issue that Khabar sent out took hundreds of man-hours. Quite frankly, if we were doing it for the money, we could have done better working at McDonalds for minimum wage. I guess when you are young, you don't pay much attention to such details, and just keep doing things that you enjoy.
Once we couldn't go to CMD anymore, we thought, ‘why don't we buy some of our own printing equipment so we can do some printing on the side too.' With that in mind, we borrowed $20,000 at eight percent interest, from my father Chittaranjan Jyotishi, who is also our ten-percent partner, and from his friend Charlie. We weren't credit-worthy enough at this point to borrow from a bank based on our incomes.
Now we had some decent printing equipment, but neither customers, nor any experience in the commercial printing business. We realized quickly we were not cut out to be printers. We continued printing our own coupon mailers for a couple more years. In 1993, we published our first community directory, which doubled in size the next year, as well as in 1996, the year of the Atlanta Olympics. The latest community directory was published this year ? after nine years. To our surprise, many people informed us that they had still held on to the older version to refer to.
Moving out of the coupon-mailer phase, Khabar went to its first newsletter format in February 1995. It was 16 pages! I find it a little ironic and hilarious when I see some of those old covers of our coupon mailers and landmark issues where we "thanked" the community and the advertisers for making us such a "great success." I guess we were a legend in our own minds.
After we moved to a newsletter/magazine format, I had heard an interview on a Tony Robbins Power Talk series with Paul Zane Pilzer (The author of Unlimited Wealth) on how the most successful companies outsource their work to whoever can do it most efficiently and at the least possible cost. With that in mind, we sought a way to outsource our production. We found this little company 18 miles from Athens, GA., called Greater Georgia Printers. They could print, bind and mail our entire issue in one day, using a web press, at a cost lesser than we could ever do it. Since that day, Kevin Miller and Greater Georgia Printers became our partners in printing. And we regret that with this issue we had to choose a new printing company to better meet our new production needs.
For a while, Parthiv used to do all of the ad sales, editorial and basic layout design. We were lucky once again. Sohel Ahmed joined us. Sohel took over all of the ad design, layout design as well as some of the ad sales and collections, while Parthiv was building his real estate business and I was building my insurance and financial services business. Sohel has been with us for more than eight years. And this year, we helped him launch his own publication called PriyoBangla. Compared to us, he started the first issue of PriyoBangla with a full color glossy cover and a 54-page book all by himself.
Parthiv realized that he loved to write. That was his passion. Yes, he could make more money in real estate, but Khabar is what he loved. We crunched some numbers, and worked it out so that he could be a full-time editor in 2001. What an amazing job he has done. People have always complimented us on his editorials and the content quality of Khabar.
We believe that Khabar has been popular with our community for two primary reasons. First, we do a free mailing distribution that reaches directly to your home and, two, we have content that relates to our community with local stories that mirror our lives in this country.
It wasn't until our 10th anniversary issue that we went to our all glossy, full-color cover. Our community has continued to grow at a very rapid pace, especially after the 1996 Olympics. We now have over 75 community organizations, over 50 Indian restaurants, and hundreds of goods and service providers for all types of our unique needs.
Khabar continues to grow along with the community. We have a talented team of individuals; many of them freelance with us. The latest addition to our core team, Murali Kamma, who serves as a managing editor, is not only another naturally talented writer, but has also helped us forge new relations with media contacts around the world?resulting in some exciting cover stories such as the recent one titled, "Mango Pie", about Americans living in India.
We get on an average of 200-300 new subscription requests each month. As of this month, our readership is around 75,000 and growing. More than 70 percent of our advertisers are repeat advertisers because they have seen the results from advertising in the magazine.
Don't get us wrong. This article is not about self-applause. We know our limitations. We are like a garage band that has found a way to make a living doing what they like to do. On most days, that is enough. We hope that this article will serve as inspiration to those who may be starting out with big dreams. Yes, we do have many plans, not only expansion into other areas, but additional publications in the coming years. God willing, we will continue to grow. If you have inclinations in the publishing industry, we would love to hear from you.
We are proud that we have been able to serve our community in our own way. We hope we have made you proud and served you well. I think everybody wants to make some difference for the people around them. Some people work in local organizations, some donate their time and money to worthwhile causes without appreciation, or just share their talents in their own special way.
We hope you will enjoy reading our new format with more color and graphics and continue to support our advertisers. We have said this many times before, but it can't be said enough. We have to thank our advertisers. Without them, we couldn't do this. They are our only source of revenue. We hope we have served you well and look forward to continue doing so in the coming years.
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