could call it a meeting of the most brilliant minds in the Indian magazine industry. At the concluding day of the Indian Magazine Congress 2008 (IMC 2008) in Mumbai, a session, aptly called CEO Forum, had top industry honchos debating the issues facing the Indian magazine industry today.
Moderator Maheshwar Peri, president, Association of Indian Magazines (AIM), and publisher, Outlook Group, began by putting the talent crunch question forward, which seems to have become a permanent fixture for every industry.
Pheroza Billimoria, managing director, Business India, agreed that acquiring and retaining the right kind of talent is an ongoing struggle in the magazine industry, what with high salaries and exorbitant newsprint costs already squeezing bottom lines.
Lakshmi Narsimhan, chief executive officer, Infomedia (magazine business), stated that, perhaps, not enough effort was being put into hiring and nurturing the right kind of talent.
Maneck Davar, founder, Spenta Multimedia, felt that salaries in the industry are hardly ideal, almost to the point of being unsustainable, which leads magazine owners to depend upon the ad rates game to survive. "The average cost of an editor is equal to seven or eight pages worth of advertising space in a magazine," he said. "At some point, we have to ask ourselves, Where is it all going?"
Maheshwar PeriFurther, many specialized publications require intimate knowledge of the subject - not something every writer can claim to have, which leads to a premium salary structure for some. "And if truth be told," Davar added, "I don't see salaries coming down anytime soon, with the way things are moving."
Khushroo Bhadha, publisher, Nextgen Publishing, touched upon what could be a simple solution: multitasking. "I feel we shouldn't pay an editor just for handling print. With alternate revenue streams coming up, we should hold him responsible for multimedia tasks as well, such as the magazine's digital setup," he volunteered.
An even more daunting problem that Davar touched upon was the alarming speed at which the magazine industry is churning out titles - that too in niche genres, which, he said, were failing worldwide. "Instead, we're crowding our domestic market with such titles," he quipped.
Another topic that reared its head was that of magazines vying for the advertiser's buck, which seems to have reached a fish market level for this industry. In a sombre mood, Billimoria admitted, "Yes, we players do undercut each other as we fear an advertiser leaving us and going for competition that offers lower rates. But if we unite under a body such as AIM and have confidence in our own product, then I'm sure we can avoid being bullied by advertisers."
However, Davar wasn't as optimistic. According to him, the magazine industry is too fragmented for such standardisation in rates to set in. "It's a very long process," he said.
Bhadha of Nextgen Publishing was next, and he touched upon other issues, such as cover pricing, which he said wasn't so much of an issue as a mindset problem. "Why will a reader not pay for superior content? Of course, he will!" he thundered.
Bhadha also spoke of the excessive importance given to anniversary issues. "Often, these are blown out of proportion and start resembling telephone directories," he quipped. "The consumer should be thirsting for more content, instead of being flooded by information overload… let's leave the anniversary issues for ourselves, instead of having the consumer and the advertisers mock us."
Xavier Collaco, president, Media Transasia, spoke next, on magazines reinventing themselves with other revenue streams - a point that other speakers had touched upon earlier as well. "I think five years from now, more than half our revenue will come from avenues other than advertising in the magazine," he said. "These include options such as web, outdoor, radio, events and on-ground associations, among others." This is already under way, as many magazines today earn 30 per cent of their revenue through non-traditional means.
Narsimhan was a bit sceptical about this. "Our medium is more laidback and analytical… in that sense, we are conservative and largely rely on print for our revenue. We need to understand what digital can mean to us, and how we ought to cast a wider net," he said.
Smiti Ruia, founder, Paprika Media, agreed, saying that while her magazine, Time Out, does tie up with ticketing companies, etc., the real challenge is to get over the print mindset - something that isn't a comfort zone yet with Indian magazine operators.
In any discussion on issues facing the magazine industry, readership and circulation surveys cannot be left out. Ruia spoke of her own woes while operating in the magazine industry. "We have a great readership base at Time Out, but often, this base is difficult to tap into at the time of, say, an ABC survey," she said. "Our audience is often not recognised in these surveys." An inadequate target group representation, in turn, leads to inadequate data to present before clients, she said.
Peri concluded that while the magazine industry grapples with issues of its own, perhaps the largest issue to be tackled is selling the very nature of the medium itself - there was a possibility that it may well be disappearing from an advertiser's media plan altogether.
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?'