Indian economy has brought in excitement to every sector, including the magazine publishing business. In the second session of the Indian Magazine Congress, 2007 - this year the venue has been shifted from Delhi to Mumbai - the focus was on current issues related to the magazine business.
Devashish Sarkar, who was the first speaker, agreed that it was indeed raining magazines in India and would continue to do so. However, he pointed out three issues on which the industry needed to work to maintain this level of growth. First on his list was distribution in the new retail environment, which magazine publishers need to learn and adapt to as quickly as possible. The second major issue, according to Sarkar, was the adaptation of the new media by magazines, and being able to produce content for the new media, be it the Internet or mobile.
However, the biggest concern, according to Sarkar, was that of people. He said, "Magazines are created by sparkling talent. But the irony is that the best of talent is going to television and advertising and, in order of preference, magazines come in last."
He also blamed advertising agencies for their approach towards magazines. He said, "Creative professionals who handle the main brands first think about TV, followed by newspapers. And if some time is left, the next priority is the Internet. Magazines rank last in terms of priority. The creative community never makes an ad for magazines."
Sarkar said that to retain talent, the industry should reward as well as award people who have done good work. "The rewards and awards have to go beyond the usual increment," he quipped.
Ashish Bagga, CEO, Living Media, the second speaker on the panel, asserted that magazines have arrived in India and that too in a big way. He said that Hindi publications were big in India, and the future was in language publications, and this held true not only for local publications, but also for international brands.
Bagga said that magazines had a strong tradition of subscriptions, which could be leveraged by transforming into a community on digital media.
Rashi Uberoi, vice-president, Media Transasia, was optimistic about the fact that the Indian magazine market was not saturated, and had future prospects of growth. Comparing the Indian market with that of the US, she said that there were about 100 titles in the female segment in the US, while India, in comparison, had only a few.
Uberoi said that magazines needed to build a sense of loyalty among readers, and towards this end, they should be informative, involving and entertaining.
She was of the opinion that there was great scope for international titles to make it big in India through licensing products, provided the Indian licensee maintained high editorial standards.
Paresh Nath, publisher of Delhi Press, started off on a humorous note, saying that it was really raining magazines as there was no place left in the news stands. But he said that magazines still offered great scope for further growth because of the rising literacy rate.
Nath said he was concerned about many issues such as government intervention, distribution and postal irregularities. He went on record to say that it was well known that 30-40 per cent of magazines are stolen from the postal department. That is why subscriptions hadn't picked up. He said, "In bigger cities, you have courier services, but they cost more than the magazine itself."
Bagga of Living Media did not agree with Nath. He talked of how Living Media had developed its own logistics system, which reached out to 1.2 million subscribers every month.
The issue of pricing of magazines was also raised by the moderator. Uberoi was of the opinion that readers were ready to pay for quality content, citing examples of her own group's titles such as 'Maxim' and 'Travel and Leisure', which are sold at Rs 100 and Rs 60, respectively.
Sarkar of Worldwide Media said magazines were already overpriced in India. He said, "I would love our magazines to be priced higher, but in comparison to the cost of newspapers, it is on the higher side." He said that in the US, the cost of magazines is 2.5 times that of newspapers; in India, the corresponding figure is 11 times.