the Indian Magazine Congress 2008 (IMC 2008), a few industry leaders got together to discuss the future of magazines in a session and to determine the next big wave.
Donald Kummerfeld, president and chief executive officer, FIPP (International Federation of the Periodical Press), declared that just like a big wave always breaks into smaller waves, the magazine industry in India was going to ride many waves.
He questioned the panel, which comprised Ashish Bagga, chief executive officer, India Today Group; Paresh Nath, editor and publisher, Delhi Press; Prakash Iyer, managing director, Infomedia India; Tarun Rai, CEO, World Wide Media; and Dr Torsten-Joern Klein, president, G+J International, about the future of reading.
Dr Torsten-Joern Klein
Donald KummerfeldKummerfeld expressed his opinion that the habit of reading was gradually diminishing. He supported that with a conclusion from a research study in the US, which suggests that the length of the articles in newspapers and magazines have decreased dramatically because readers spend less time reading nowadays.
Bagga said that the average time spent has indeed been decreasing. "The readers now want a condensed form of news in magazines and newspapers; for detailed information, they prefer to access other media platforms," he said, attributing the trend to low attention spans. This, he said, was true for general news; special interest magazines continue to have long articles.
Rai believed that it was an obvious trend, considering the proliferation of newer media platforms and other means of entertainment. He shared a dilemma from his advertising days, when the creative team would wonder if long copy in print ads worked. "It is important to decide what the content is. If backed by visuals, it can hold attention," he said.
Dr Klein clarified that it wasn't right to generalize the trend and that it depended on the markets. He cited the example of Germany, where readers still prefer long articles. "The average amount of text in a magazine in Germany is double that of a magazine published in India or Russia," he said. He also said that with newer media like the Internet wooing the youth, magazines must change and cater to their expectations.
Iyer of Infomedia India disagreed with the rest of the panel. His rationale was that with more people becoming literate and employed in the country, the reading habit would only increase and the market would only grow further. "Just because skirts are becoming shorter doesn't mean wearing clothes is on a decline," he remarked.
Paresh Nath of Delhi Press, reiterating what Iyer had said, added that magazines were increasingly becoming like commodities. According to him, every magazine needs to have its own identity and presentation style in order to have a loyal set of readers.
Kummerfeld quizzed the panel on which platforms would be read in the future. "Will ink and paper be dominant or will some other platform replace it?" he asked.
Rai said that one could look at technological developments as threats or as opportunities. He gave the example of Top Gear, the popular auto magazine by WWM, which started as a television show - it is now a magazine and is on the Internet as well.
The entire panel seemed to believe that being multimedia was key. Bagga said that only those present across media platforms would succeed. However, he also added that print would be the cornerstone of all platforms.
Kummerfeld stated that magazines should be treated like brands, which have a set of expectations. He asked the panel if magazines were failing to do so and if brand loyalty was declining.
Rai also said that it was imperative to build a magazine as a brand. "Today, a magazine brand competes with a soft drink brand and a mobile brand at the same time. Hence, brands have to be different," he explained.
Bagga said that "anytime anywhere content" would be the future of media consumption, as more and more media platforms come into play. "Readers will not want technology to dictate what they should read and, instead, will want to seek the content of their choice at their leisure," he said.
Kummerfeld concluded the session saying that one must not lose focus of the basic essence of a magazine, which is putting words, pictures, designs, graphics and advertisements in front of the consumer in the most pleasing manner. "Let's not give it up and get distracted by other platforms," he concluded.
The Indian Magazine Congress 2008 was organised in association with Worldwide Movies (WWM). The theme of the Congress this year was: 'Where Is the Next Big Opportunity?'