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Indian Magazine Congress: Are magazines ready for the future?

By , agencyfaqs!, Mumbai | In Media Publishing | October 10, 2007
On the concluding day of the congress, eminent panellists discussed the changing business model for Indian magazine publishers

There's no & #BANNER1 & # denying it. The magazine industry in India cannot afford to be complacent to changes in the media consumption scenario any more. One now gets to hear of terms such as e-magazines or mobile magazines - phenomena that couldn't have been thought of some years ago. At the concluding day of the Indian Magazine Congress, 2007, eminent speakers from within the industry discussed the changing business model for Indian magazine publishers.

Moderated by Sreekant Khandekar, director, agencyfaqs!, and editor and publisher, 'The Brand Reporter', the session kicked off with an interesting insight from R Rajmohan, president and publisher, Images Multimedia. "To my mind, the most important change has been that of rising cover prices." Five years ago, he said, if a magazine was sold at Rs 50, advertisers would ask who would buy such an expensive product. "Today, if we sell it at Rs 30, they ask us why we are selling it so cheap," quipped Rajmohan. Perhaps this change can be attributed to the theory that, today, people were willing to pay for quality content.

R Rajmohan

B Srinivasan

Suresh Selvaraj

Malcolm Mistry

Sreekant Khandekar
Next, Rajmohan spoke of the explosion in magazine titles and the emergence of so many niches, which one couldn't have dreamed of before. "More competition means that brand building is becoming significant, as is the fight for retail space," he said.

Giving a regional publication's perspective was B Srinivasan, MD, Anand Vikatan Group, who felt that today's competitive scenario demanded greater partnerships in the magazine industry, particularly that of regional publications with English ones, to reach a wider reader base. Srinivasan was of the opinion that print was just one of the versions of magazines - events and the use of multimedia platforms such as digital, were all a big part of it. While he admitted that 'paan' shops were where magazines were sold the most today, he hinted at a possible partnership in the future between magazines and retail chains, with the latter becoming more sophisticated by the day.

Moving away from distribution and brand building, Suresh Selvaraj, vice-president, Outlook Group, and associate publisher, 'Marie Claire', spoke of green bucks - the revenue models for magazines and how these have evolved. "Essentially, there are four of these," he began. These included the Circulation Revenue Model (the so-called 'free ad' magazines, which make up for that with high cover prices), the Ad Revenue Model (particularly profitable for B2B publications - essentially ad driven and content free of cost), the Content Selling Model (paid for content) and the Treaty Model (trading off unsold ad inventory and even editorial space for shares of fledgling companies, and thereby, increasing the valuation of the concerned company). "The last two models have been successfully adopted by 'The Times of India'," Selvaraj observed.

'Magazines die hard' was Selvaraj's mantra for the session, and he went on to highlight the various factors that could convert into successful strategies for magazines in India. For one, publishers ought to be bold enough to raise cover prices, with increasing purchasing power, he iterated. Selvaraj saw no harm in continuing with the subscription model as it was the "foundation of a magazine".

Interestingly, he also spoke of using the untapped goldmine of subscriber databases more imaginatively. "Build a community of subscribers," he said. This could then be shared with the magazine's advertisers to enable them to sell various products to these subscribers on the basis of their profiles. "Even those advertisers who don't advertise on your publication could be roped in," he mused.

Tying up with retailers for promotional activities and distribution; direct marketing/direct mailings to the subscriber base; 'Mag Net' or magazines on the Internet to engage readers were some of the other points Selvaraj touched upon. Perhaps a bit hopeful, he spoke of licensing Indian publications abroad, as a cash-rich NRI base with a hunger for Indian content was there waiting to be tapped.

"They are the biggest consumers of real estate, jewellery and gadgets, so the advertisers will automatically come flowing in," he concluded.

Malcolm Mistry, publisher for the Indian language editions of 'India Today' and associate publisher, 'India Today' (English), wasn't quite so optimistic. He said that in a highly fragmented media market, we were faced with the problems of elusive, less loyal readers, and low clout (magazine advertising was still only 5 per cent of an advertiser's spend). An understanding of consumer trends, multiple titles as opposed to single ones, and a foray into the digital world could perhaps solve this mess, he said.

Contrary to the others who said a subscription revenue set-up was a viable solution, Mistry said that advertising would continue to drive growth in magazines.