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Gaon Connection: Going beyond the village

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It‘s seeking to further its connection with its core audience: those from rural India or those interested in it. Rural newspaper,Gaon Connection which hit the stands just as 2012 was ending, is now looking at going transmedia with an audio feed planned for handsets and short TV snippets on the anvil for TV news channels, and also spreading internationally.

Founded by veteran journo and lyricist Neelesh Misra, along with his buddy Karan Dalal, with the aim of catering to the rural readers of India, Gaon Connection operates across Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh.

The Lucknow-based publication has a team of 15 full timers and scores of stringers all over India. Gaon Connection’s circulation has gone up from 7,000 copies at inception to 10,000 as of now, according to Misra. The 14 page Rs 5 priced weekly has a claimed readership of around 120,000.

He says the Rs 5 tag is not too high as rural Indians spend about Rs 30 a month for their feature phone services. Therefore, Rs 20 a month for a newspaper which keeps them informed about developments important to them is quite reasonable.

Misra has plans to increase readership of Gaon Connection and has drawn up ground activities to enable that to happen. Reading sessions are planned for schools and at panchayat gatherings, where reporters will read out the newspaper to locals.

Additionally, it is roping in milk companies and SIM card distributors to further the availability of Gaon Connection.

A small marketing and sales team in Delhi and Lucknow has been pitching the publication to advertisers and pulling in revenue from mainly local ones. Now Misra‘s gameplan is to attract large multinational brands and he is in conversation with agencies such as GroupM and Mindshare for the same.

Misra got UP Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav‘s support who dropped in at the newspaper‘s launch in December

He believes that Gaon Connection will create job opportunities for rural youth. “For instance, we are planning to call in young people in Kanaura village in UP and train them to be journalists and distributors. What this will do is if you have a reporter and distributor in every block, you are able to create a lot of white collar talent which will give a voice to those regions,” says Misra.

Misra believes it is now time to take the voice of Indian villages across transmedia platforms such as television and the mobile. An in-house team is in the process of scripting snippets to be telecast on news channels. Talks are on with two national channels for the same, he says, without revealing the names.

“The ideas for the television snippets will grow from the newspaper. The vision is to eventually have a rural TV channel,” he shares. Misra plans to launch the TV snippets by end of the year.

Gaon Connection has got rural readers asking for more; Misra is targeting a huge jump in readership

Additonally, on the anvil is what he calls India‘s first audio newspaper. Misra (who is an experienced radio "story teller" courtesy his show on Big FM 92.7) is gearing up to create a dial-in audio feed for mobile users. The service will work on a subscription basis and will be available in the next four to five months. Talks are on with several telecom service providers.

Going forward, Misra plans to take Gaon Connection overseas catering to the non-resident Indians (NRIs). “We are looking at setting up Gaon Connection chapters worldwide. We have received interest from folks in Singapore, Washington, London,” he elaborates.

Misra used his personal savings - and even sold his home in New Delhi - to launch Gaon Connection. He now hopes to rope in investors to help take his pet project to the next level. His wife Yamini who joined him sometime back to look after distribution and building the business, believes in his vision. Now all that he has to do is make those with bulging pockets also fall in line.

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