Namaste, world. Welcome to BuzzFeed India. pic.twitter.com/jGlBEKtxnP
— BuzzFeed India (@BuzzFeedIndia) May 30, 2014
Ever since news broke of the impending launch of BuzzFeed India, we at The Aerogram have been following its development quite closely — if its recent spate of articles in this vertical have been any indication, then we’ve certainly got a lot to look forward to from the desi version of the hugely successful BuzzFeed enterprise.
To find out more about BuzzFeed India and the plan for this new venture, we talked with BuzzFeed’s VP of International, Scott Lamb, and BuzzFeed India Editor Rega Jha. While Jha should be a familiar name for readers of The Aerogram given that her articles and tweets have often made it to this site (Jha, incidentally, also told me that she “loves The Aerogram” — #shamelessplug), Lamb is known for, among other things, being the man responsible for creating the Disaster Girl meme.
The interviews, which were conducted separately, have been condensed and edited for The Aerogram.
First up: why BuzzFeed India, and why now?
Scott Lamb: BuzzFeed started doing its international expansion just over a year ago, and the first place we went to was the UK — that was a very natural place for us to go, obviously, in terms of culture and language. It is a different country, but it’s not as vastly different in terms of the types of content that people read here in the US. So it was a good place for us to test out our theory for expansion, and that model has been to start with a very small editorial team of local writers, and let them experiment and grow.
So, over the course of the last year, we have launched in Australia, and we also launched Spanish, French and Portuguese editions. After those kind of got off the ground and running, we were looking for other places to expand. We were looking at really major global cultural capitals, and looking at the rest of the globe, some of the obvious places were Tokyo, Mexico City and Mumbai.
Mumbai seemed to us to be really an interesting city culturally, a sort of centre Noticing that Facebook has now passed 100 million users in India certainly didn’t hurt.of culture in India; it’s also a place where there is a bit of a tech start-up scene, where there’s some new media happening. And India, in general, for us, is just a place we wanted to go for a while. We have made content about India in the past [that’s worked really well] — India is a very social culture, and noticing that Facebook has now passed 100 million users in India certainly didn’t hurt either. So, that’s [the answer to] “why India.”
In terms of why now, it’s partially because it’s seen this huge acceptance of Facebook. I think we are also noticing that there are a lot of international media companies who are interested in going to India right now. Also, in terms of the recent election, it is a very interesting place politically, and for India, it is very interesting, and the world is looking toward India right now to see what is going to happen with the new government. So, all of those factors combined made it a good time for us to expand there.
Rega Jha: Our audience and following in India has been growing pretty quickly for the last couple of years, partly because we’ve been producing more India-themed content, but also because Indians live on the same internet as the rest of the world — we consume a lot of the same popular culture, we speak the same language, we use the same social media platforms, and we laugh at the same jokes. Realizing that, it makes a lot of sense for BuzzFeed to be on the ground in Mumbai.
Now is a particularly exciting time to be jumping into the conversations India is having because politically, the country is in the wake of the largest election of all time, and culturally, the subcontinent is starting to grow more and more aware of itself. Indian feminism and the Indian LGBT movements have never been more fascinating and loud than they are now — some of the most viral videos and articles coming out of India are social justice oriented — and it’s going to be so much fun to participate in and write for those moments.
“Indians live on the same internet as the rest of the world.”
What’s the plan for BuzzFeed India? What are the kinds of stories that you are looking to do, the team you are planning for the same, etc.?
SL: We are going to start with a small team — we are going to use our existing model of having a team of 4-5 writers to begin with, based in Mumbai, and they are going to traditionally concentrate on the entertainment side of the news and the entertainment equation that we have. We do reporting, but we also do social content that people like to share. It’s often light-hearted; it can be about identity or about cultural events. So we are going to start with that — that has really worked for us in terms of helping understand what the social ecosystem is like in a new country — basically, [find out] what are the things people like to share.
Once the team has established a footprint in India, then, we’ll figure out how we want to expand our news coverage in India. I think there are a lot of really exciting opportunities there — it’s a country with a lot going on, and there are many different ways to approach it from a news reporting standpoint. But I think we are going to allow ourselves to be there for a little while and have the team that we hire there tell us what they think the right expansion plan will be.
Rega will be in charge of editorial oversight at BuzzFeed India. Rega has just been a phenomenal writer for us — she really gets Buzzfeed; she’s made a lot of really interesting credible work that people have shared globally. So she brings with her, I think, a really deep understanding of what BuzzFeed is and how we do things. So she’ll be in charge of hiring and finding a team of really talented writers, helping them really understand how BuzzFeed approaches its writing content, inspecting their articles, and making sure the whole thing works.
RJ: BuzzFeed India will eventually feature a mix of content similar to that on our American site — news, pop culture, internet culture, videos, humorous lists, etc. Those will be tailor-made for an Indian audience in ways that I’m excited to figure out. In a way, BuzzFeed began as a lab of a handful of people in a room, trying to figure out what the internet loves and hates and wants to share, and that’s what BuzzFeed India is going to be too.
— ScoopWhoop (@ScoopWhoopNews) June 3, 2014
Any worries about facing competition in the Indian market? After all, there’s ScoopWhoop, which does feature a lot of BuzzFeed-style writing, and then there’s Scroll.in, Quartz India, etc. as well. Also, are there any plans for monetization at BuzzFeed India?
RJ: When those sites began to pop up, I got a lot of emails and tweets saying “OMG, look, this is the Indian BuzzFeed!” and I think that does them a disservice, The Indian internet is definitely big enough for all us to coexist.in terms of letting them figure out their own editorial voice and vision. Besides, I always maintain that BuzzFeed is the Indian BuzzFeed. Honestly, I love those sites (and they know that). ScoopWhoop is hilarious, Scroll.in is stunning, and I don’t consider them competition — the Indian internet is definitely big enough for all us to coexist. Ultimately, our goal is to create fun, interesting content for India and the Indian diaspora, and I have nothing but respect for others who are doing the same.
SL: We have looked at the creation of sites like ScoopWhoop — which, I think, is a fantastic site. Generally, in a positive way, I think there’s a lot of room on the Internet for sites like BuzzFeed and ScoopWhoop to co-exist peacefully. If anything, it’s a very good sign that they have been so successful, that the model of content that BuzzFeed does is going to work in India. So, in a way, we have a lot of market research for us in advance of us launching.
In terms of monetization, the initial project in India is just totally focused on editorial at the moment. I think there are a lot of exciting possibilities for BuzzFeed style of social content marketing and advertising to work in India, but initially, we are focused very much just on growing the readership and creating a really good editorial site that people love to read, that the writers are making really good work.
It’s really a start-up — it’s a venture funded by BuzzFeed in the US essentially, and we are There is an exciting opportunity to bring BuzzFeed-style advertising to the Indian marketplace.going to give writers time to figure things out before we start filling in heavily on the monetization side. I think there is an exciting opportunity to bring BuzzFeed-style advertising to the Indian marketplace; I don’t know if there are other publishers that offer the sort of product like we do. I think brands and agencies in India probably will be looking forward to working with us, I hope, but we are going to answer those questions a little further down the road.
So who are the kinds of people you’re looking for to work at BuzzFeed India?
SL: It’s been a very interesting challenge for us to find staff writers, to find people to write for us. We do traditional news reporting; we have a very large team of writers and reporters who we hired from newspapers and magazines in the US, but to find people who write this social-entertainment content has always been a little bit of a challenge.
The make-up of the people we are looking at ranges really from people who have had experience in traditional journalism but want to try something different, to people who have never had a conventional writing job before, but maybe they have a blog of their own or they have a funny Twitter feed. We have got a lot of people who have a good sense of writing for the Internet, of creating things that people really will share, but conventionally have had other types of jobs. So it is [going to be] a real mixed bag.
I think the thing that is most important for us is to find [people] with that sort of special spark, with that understanding of how to frame a story, how to write a story in a way that people will not just enjoy reading, but will feel compelled to also share once they finish reading it.
RJ: Well-informed but goofy, intelligent but playful, in love with pop culture but also critical of it, obsessed with the internet, and a kick-ass writer. So, if you know anyone…
Do you have a timeline in mind for BuzzFeed India’s expansion?
SL: We don’t have a firm timeline. We are really right at the very beginning of this process. Typically though, I think that after about six months of having a team, after the team has really started and really launched and trending, is when we think about this. At the six months mark, is where we check in and start thinking about where we might expand. That’s when we start looking at, like, well, do we want to be covering politics in Delhi, and think about how we want to expand. That’s generally how it has been. I can’t say for sure that is how we will roll out in India, as every country is very different, but going in right now, that’s sort of the general outline.
Rega, for you personally — what are your thoughts on moving back to India?
RJ: I can’t wait to move home. For several good reasons and some bad, India is a thrilling place to be right now, and it’s going to be incredibly fun — albeit a bit challenging — to write for and about it.
Finally — do you have any “dream” articles that you’d like to see come out of BuzzFeed India? Any theme that you’d like to particularly focus on?
RJ: Just as we have in the United States, BuzzFeed India will report and comment on social justice movements and issues. In India, that means that aside from our humorous viral content, women’s safety and rights and LGBT equality, amongst other issues, will be priorities for our editorial team.
SL: I would like them to make a viral hit about cricket. I think that will be something that would be a real sign of success. My father was British, and he tried to explain to me how cricket works, but I am really truly American, and cricket is something very foreign to me. And to see the team make some cricket buzz that goes viral would be pretty awesome.
Aby Sam Thomas is a writer and journalist currently based out of Dubai. Talk to him on Twitter @thisisaby.