If you like drooling over celebrity centrespreads and if you picked up the 'Summer Special' issue of G that hit stands this month, chances are you would have either loved it or cursed yourself. More than 60 per cent of the magazine (53 pages of a total of 82) is nothing but full-page, colour photographs of film stars. It is in sheer contrast to a new four-page section introduced at the end of the magazine, on film trade news. The only other text lies in two interviews and one feature story, again jazzed up with pictures. As for advertising, only five full-page (A4) colour ads (including the back cover). For the kind of production quality that a pictorial emphasis demands, advertising is far from commensurate.
"Against the 2 lakh copies of Stardust and 160,000 of Filmfare, we are nowhere for advertisers," explains Bharat Kapadia, managing editor and associate publisher, Chitralekha Group. So how does his group run the magazine? "We control costs," he answers. G is published in two other languages (as Jee, in Gujarati and Marathi, both of them succeesful in their regions), thus enabling content-sharing and savings. The editorial team shares the Chitralekha infrastructure. "Overheads are low," says Kapadia. "The only extra expenditure really is the editorial team and photo-shoot costs."
Cine Blitz, among the Top Three film Indian magazines, is also trying to reign in costs while reinventing itself. "We have increased the paper quality but cut down on the number of pages, for instance," explains Ketan Dattani, advertising manager, Cine Blitz. It is part of a bigger role-definition begun around 1997. But things began changing for film magazines around 1995. Sure, the smaller ones, like G, felt the tug first.
The arrival of satellite television around 1995, its fixation with the lives of film stars, the subsequent publication boom, the introduction of magazine-format supplements in national and regional dailies, have all brought films and film stars closer to their fans. Advertising campaigns on television and in print routinely feature film stars. "For the first time, stars are so much more accessible," feels Blitz's Dattani. But he also uses that as a counter-argument: "Increased coverage of film stars has also increased their interest in people. So competition has helped us in a way," he feels. Yet, Cine Blitz's sales have stagnated since the last three years, he reveals.
Kapadia is more direct. "The category of film magazines began declining in 1995," he says. While Dattani argues that it is the smaller magazines that have been gravely affected, he does admit the Top Three - Stardust, Filmfare, Cine Blitz - have had to question their existence and change accordingly. "Six or seven years ago, we would be counted in all (ad) campaigns," he recalls. "But today the market is very competitive."
The competition began around 1995. Some names - Movie, Star & Style, Tinseltown - dropped out on the way. The decline in individual brands does not come clean in the readership numbers from the last two rounds of IRS 2000. Sure, Filmfare's readership is shown to have dropped by a lakh, from 36 lakh to 35 lakh. But both Stardust and Cine Blitz seem to have stuck to their numbers. Filmfare though, loves to quote the NRS data which shows its readership growing at 50 lakh currently, with Stardust and Cine Blitz following at 31 lakh and 20 lakh separately. ABC figures do not covey much because both Stardust and Cine Blitz have not participated in the last year or so. Unofficial figures put their sales numbers at 170,000 (Filmfare), 2.5 lakh (Stardust) and 1 lakh plus copies (Cine Blitz). G claims to sell a modest 60,000 copies.
"Overall, there has been a decline in numbers in film magazines," confirms Nandini Dias, national media director, Interface Communications. While numbers can be juggled with, the truth is, the premium on being No 1 or No 2 was never higher in this category. The last few years have seen Filmfare, Cine Blitz and G go through their quota of change. Tomorrow's survivors may not be as many. The survival of smaller players is uncertain, unless the value-addition they bring is too loud and clear. On the positive side, the magazines seem to be "reinventing themselves", believes Dias. "A lot of them are turning far more glossier, for instance," she says, stating a basic yet significant change.
In this story, we had noted Cine Blitz's sales figure as 1 lakh plus copies (unofficial). Cine Blitz claims a circulation figure of 184,000 copies. The error is regretted.
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