first day of the Indian Magazine Congress, 2007, being held in Mumbai, industry veteran and publisher of Delhi Press Paresh Nath had pointed out that the postal distribution system for magazines was pathetic, with some 30-40 per cent of magazines getting stolen midway. On the second day of the congress, in a session which was to discuss multiple sales platforms for maximizing distribution, the moderator of the session, Ian Locks, CEO, Periodical Publishers Association, said that the postal distribution system was no different around the world.
The session had panellists such as Vivek Gaur, executive director, Living Media; Anant Nath, director, Delhi Press; Pradeep Mohan, vice-president, Tehelka; and M Rajagopalan Nair, senior general manager, circulation, 'Malayala Manorama'.
The entire panel seemed unanimous in its opinion that magazines needed a common distribution system to fight newspapers, and that they needed to use non-traditional methods to boost their distribution system.
Gaur also pointed out that in the last five years, the entire retail landscape in the country had changed drastically and further changes should be expected in the next five years, which in turn would affect the magazine distribution system.
Referring back to the recent past, he cited the example of Free Press Lane at Nariman Point, which was the business district of India's financial capital, Mumbai. A few years ago, there were at least seven vendors on this street which saw millions of footfalls every day. But today, there are just three and their presence, too, is erratic due to the fear of policemen who keep driving them away.
Gaur pointed out that magazines were still following a distribution method that was probably right for newspapers, and this was a major concern for the industry. Magazines still depend on newspaper vendors to reach the consumer's doorstep; the irony is that while this method works for newspapers, it doesn't for magazines.
Gaur pointed out three things key to the distribution and sale of magazines: availability, visibility and trade recommendations. While visibility was very difficult at newsstands, which are already cluttered, trade recommendations work better for newspapers. So, to increase availability, he stressed the need to use non-conventional methods of distribution such as neighbourhood mom and pop stores, large retail networks and automatic vending machines, which are to be found at airports and major shopping malls. He said Living Media's distribution company planned to set up outlets at Delhi Metro stations.
To lure large networks, publications needed to consolidate their distribution system because big retail chains such as Big Bazar and Reliance Fresh would be comfortable dealing with one company rather than several. The other way to lure these retail outlets would be to increase profit margins.
Talking on similar lines, Anant Nath, director, Delhi Press, said that newspapers were affecting the magazine distribution system. His rationale: "Newspaper vendors who delivered magazines at home now refuse to do so, as they find the effort to distribute magazines is too much and the margins less."
Nath pointed out the magazine business was facing a really bad time in terms of distribution. Newsstand sales of magazines had gone down and the availability of magazines was being affected because the density of distribution points was lower than it should be.
On the other hand, newspapers had increased their distribution by getting more printing centres and reaching out to more agents in lesser time.
Nath compared the Indian market with two other developed markets - the US and the UK. He said that in the UK, newsstand sales were very high because newsstand density was high. And in the US, magazine publishers were more dependent on subscriptions. The Indian market, unfortunately, had adapted the worst of both worlds.
Just like Gaur, Nath was also of the opinion that the industry and magazine publishers needed to come forward to set up a common distribution network. He cited the example of how 'Amar Ujala' had leveraged the strong distribution network of Delhi Press in a small state like Uttaranchal. He indicated that same kind of facility could be leveraged by a South based publication, which wanted to enter the North India market, or vice versa.
According to Nath, too much money was being wasted by magazines at the point of display in metros. "This certainly helps the magazine to build the brand, but not sales," Nath said.
M.Rajagopalan Nair of 'Malaya Manorama' raised the problem of the dependence of magazines on newspapers vendors for distribution and the vendors' reluctance to pick up magazines. This led to a situation where the consumer had to pick up his own copy, which he did at his own convenience.
Nair agreed that the use of automatic vending machines (AVMs) could drive distribution in the future, but he said that that had not been the case when 'Malayala Manorama' started its first AVM in an airport. He said that initially, they had faced problems because the machine wouldn't accept soiled notes, and when coins were introduced, the system did not pick up. However, he was optimistic that things had changed now and non-traditional ways of distribution such as convenience stores in petrol pumps, hawkers at traffic signals and AVMs could solve the distribution problem.
Pradeep Mohan of Tehelka said different kinds of magazines needed different distribution systems; especially in the luxury and lifestyle segment, he said magazines could be distributed by tying up with boutiques, hotels, salons and airlines. He also felt that magazines needed to make a collaborative effort to set up a distribution network.
Locks ended the session saying that in Europe, an association for magazines helps the publications to reach out to consumers in the most cost-effective way. Is the Association of Indian Magazines listening?