Unavu Ulagam: a niche publication marking eight years of sustainable success

In the fast changing scenario of publishing, niche publications have relatively more opportunities for getting sustainable success due to their close proximity with the readers. However, these publications also need to strive relentlessly to keep their operation intact despite any adverse situations. Chennai-based monthly magazine Unavu Ulagam (World of Food) is such a niche publication, that interestingly enters its ninth year of success, but the journey has not been less adventurous for it ever since its inception. Editor Rama Meyappan shares his operational experiences with Janani Rajeswari S. Unavu Ulagam covers a wide range of issues related predominantly to food and the concerned industry apart from offering health-related articles. “When we started Unavu Ulagam under the title Modern Kitchen in 2005, there were hardly any magazine dedicated to food in Tamil. Though a few did exist, they went out of business very soon. So, I decided to start one myself,” says Rama Meyappan, editor, Unavu Ulagam.

The reasons behind this initiative were many, which included some personal ones too. When Meyappan came to Chennai in 1998, he was just like any other bachelor who survived on a meagre income and limited meals. He frequented roadside vendors, tiny restaurants and even canteens. “At such places, the method of preparing food as well as serving them was extremely unhygienic,” recalls Meyappan. However, he also points out that there were people whose breakfast was just a cup of tea and a vada. Apart from skipping at least one meal a day, he adds. “Such people lacked food packed with nutritional value resulting in various health issues. On the other hand, there was another group of people who were lavishing on food and equally wasting too. Having observed both cases, I was motivated to start a magazine that would create awareness about healthy food habits, hygienic food processing and the importance of sanitation in restaurants,” mentions Meyappan, who previously worked for various daily newspapers as well as magazines.

However, Meyappan began work on the magazine amid a lot of discouragement. “We were told that the magazine will not survive for more than two years. But eight years have gone by and we are doing great. Apart from India, we could also attract a few readers in the countries such as Malayasia, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Canada, USA and Myanmar, and the number continues growing,” he says.

The magazine has encouraged reader interaction since the first issue. In the initial issues, readers were invited to share their experiences related to food. There was a section which carried queries on natural foods and health facts. “Initially, the idea was to look at people as consumers of food and not as business people,” explains Meyappan. However, the title Modern Kitchen remained ambiguous. Some thought it was related to architecture or even about kitchen maintenance. “The readers were not exactly clear about what the magazine about unless they read it. As a result, it was difficult to reach out to many readers. Then, the target audience were mainly housewives,” Meyappan says. Resultantly, in the year 2009, the name of the magazine was changed to Unavu Ulagam, coined indicating food from all over the world. “And it made a huge difference to the magazine,” says Meyappan, with a smile.

From July 2009, Unavu Ulagam began carrying a booklet containing quick recipes as a supplement every month. Meyappan says that there is a lot of risk when it comes to publishing recipes. “Earlier, we ran recipe contests in the magazine. Later, it was changed to concept-based recipes such as health-related ones or that which involved innovative thinking,” he adds. The magazine continues to have a section dedicated to recipes from readers that are cross-checked by Meyappan himself. However, Meyappan decided to stop the publication of the recipe supplement after a year-and-a-half, for concrete reasons. “Today, many of the Tamil magazines heavily depend on such recipe booklets to increase their sales. But I wondered it was necessary to sell a magazine in such a fashion? The idea was to break such stereotypical notions,” explains Meyappan. That has definitely not affected their readership ever since. “The readership has actually gone up after that. The USP of Unavu Ulagam has been that it offers reader-oriented information, which is based on their needs. They wish to know about tasty food that is also healthy and that is exactly what we give them,” he says.

Initially, Unavu Ulagam did not deal with subjects such as food technology and business-oriented concepts, but since 2009, the magazine has been covering this segment too. Meyappan adds that the field of food is extremely vast. There are a lot of innovations that happen every day and all of these are consumer-oriented innovations. As the food industry is never a stand-alone, Meyappan also tries to couple it with fields such as education to explain the deep connection between them through special issues published every year.

In the future, Meyappan plans to reach out to the readers through food-related events. The magazines had conducted similar events in 2008 and in 2010. The events included reader participation and also interactions with experts from the field of food and health. He also keeps in mind to create in-depth TV programmes dedicated to food unlike the recipe-based one that are aired nowadays. But quiz him about the scope of such food-based programmes or magazine, and he remains unperturbed. “The field of food is like an ocean. There is ample material available for the next two or three decades,” says a very optimistic Meyappan.

“We were told that the magazine will not survive for more than two years. But eight years have gone by and we are doing great. Apart from India, we could also attract a few readers in the countries such as Malayasia, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Canada, USA and Myanmar, and the number continues growing,” says Rama Meyappan, editor, Unavu Ulagam, who began work on the magazine amid a lot of discouragement.

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