Upasana Makati’s magazine for the visually impaired was born out of idle musings. A graduate of Jai Hind College, Upasana spent some time studying in Canada before returning to India to work. Though she liked her job, she had dreams of striking out on her own, “It didn’t feel right. I wasn’t doing justice to what I had planned for myself. I wasn’t completely satisfied. I used to always think about what more I could do.”
The former PR professional found herself wondering one day how the visually impaired read for pleasure. Some quick research showed her that there were no real magazines that catered to blind people.
She says, “I looked it up on the web – what is it that blind people read? I thought I was unaware of what’s available because I have no relations who are visually impaired. But I found nothing online. We are talking about everything getting digitised and moving ahead, but something as basic as a magazine for the visually impaired didn’t exist.”
The White Print Journey: How It All Began
Upasana’s next move was setting up a meeting with the Director of the National Association For The Blind (NAB). After speaking to him, she realised that the majority of visually impaired people relied on podcasts and the radio for news and entertainment. When she suggested a magazine for blind, he was enthusiastic about the idea and connected her with a few visually impaired people to speak to. She says, “I would ask them ‘What if I were to start something like this?’ and everyone I spoke to was so excited. For me, this confirmed that it was something that was needed. I did this for 3 months and I was convinced – I quit my job to give it my all.”
It wasn’t unchallenging by any means, and Upasana’s plans were delayed by bureaucratic processes. She explains, “The whole registration process took 8 months because the magazine name was rejected twice. Each time, you are supposed to submit 5 names and they would give you one – the website would say a title is available but in the file, it wouldn’t be. This was my 11th title.” Upasana continues, “When it was rejected twice, I did experience self-doubt. But I had a pretty strong support system in terms of family and friends. No one ever thought that I needed a plan B.”
Making It A Profitable Venture
Since it began in 2013, ‘White Print’ has been a for-profit venture. This is something that Upasana is emphatic about.
“I was always sure that White Print wouldn’t be a charity venture because when I would speak to people within the community, they were sick of sympathy – it’s not needed all the time. It can be suffocating.”
Despite having a clear game plan, her challenges were just beginning. Priced at Rs. 30, White Print required advertisers to stay in business. In today’s world of glossy, extremely visual ads, Upasana had a hard time pitching text only ads to companies. She says, “I wrote 200 emails and only one company responded – the Raymond Group. I went the very next day and had a meeting with the Marketing Head. It was successful and I had the funding needed to print the inaugural issue.”
Raymond’s advertorial opened the gates for other brands, and over time things have changed. Upasana elaborates, “The Mahindra Group came back and advertised with us. Apart from that, I got support from Coca-Cola, Vodafone, TATA Group, and Aircel. Yash Raj also advertised with us for the film ‘Fan’. They wanted to do a screening especially for the visually impaired.”
Though her advertising sales are going up, she does feel like the landscape needs to change, “Companies need to bring in a new perspective of being inclusive brands, and not just looking at advertising as a vehicle to raise sales. “
Inside The Pages Of White Print
An English lifestyle magazine, White Print features a mix of subjects. Short stories, music articles, political columns, and travel articles are all featured in the content. Upasana says, “We also have a reader’s column where one of my readers wrote on how you can use braille to make a lot of shapes (‘fun with braille dots’), and another 13-year-old reader wrote a crime story.” Additionally, “They love short stories, the quiz section – a lot of them appear for competitive exams – and it’s helpful for them), travel articles, and stories about entrepreneurship.”
In the spirit of trying to share intelligent and well-articulated perspectives with their audience, White Print also has an editorial tie-up with Caravan magazine, and has collaborated with author and activist Sudha Murthy.
White Print also tries to show their readers fresh perspectives and direct them to avenues they hadn’t considered. Upasana says, “Every May, we interview 7 people from different walks of life to give people an idea about various professions and success stories.”
From being featured in Forbes (The 30 Under 30 List) to potentially creating a series of kids books in Braille, it doesn’t look like Upasana Makati is slowing down. And we can’t help but feel glad for it!
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