IMC 2010: Dos and don'ts of custom publishing

By Sumantha Rathore , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Media Publishing | September 07, 2010
The panel discussed the drivers for growth in custom publishing

In the last session of the first day of Indian Magazine Congress 2010, eminent panellists spoke about the factors affecting custom media publishing. The panel comprised Akila Urankar, president, Business Standard; Pradeep Gupta, managing director, CyberMedia; Prakash Johari, CEO, Maxposure Media; and Xavier Collaco, president, Media Transasia. The session was moderated by Mitrajit Bhattacharya, president and publisher, Chitralekha group of magazines.

Bhattacharya said that the best examples of custom media are in-flight magazines. "Custom media creates a dedicated set of audience and generates loyalties."

Urankar said that Business Standard has been in the space of custom publishing for the last 10 years, but it hasn't been too active. "We have not tried too much of it, because we want to have the right resources to bring out a good product. And also a well-sponsored product, basically one where there is a significant chunk of revenue."

She added that though custom media can help publications nurture a loyal audience; at this point in time, there isn't much money in the sector. "But the day it changes, things will improve for the sector drastically. And with all mass communication channels becoming cluttered, this sector will further help advertisers reach out to the right set of audience in a more focused manner."

Collaco was of the opinion that the honeymoon period for the sector had just begun. "It is still a virgin territory in India." While in the West, the spends on custom media are as high as 10-18 per cent; in India, it is barely 0.2 per cent. There is a lot of untapped potential in the sector, he added.

He stated that his company publishes 11 custom publications. "Each story is designed especially to communicate the brand's message in a desired format. It can be good reference tool." There is a need for a measurement device that can periodically measure the effectiveness of the medium, he said.

Collaco pointed out that one of the key factors affecting this sector's growth is distribution. "25 percent of the money is spent on communicating with the prospective buyer. This is a major cost." Another issue that plagues this sector is the free business model. As publications are largely dependent on advertising revenue and sell their product for free, the perception of the product goes down dramatically. "If the audience is not ready to pay for a product especially designed for them, why would advertisers pay anything at all?" asked Collaco.

Johari had a different viewpoint, and said that going pay or not is a matter of choice. Every custom publication is unique and has its own set of rules. "There is nothing wrong in distributing the publication free of cost. You need to give something extra to the readers, so that they prefer you."

He said that in-flight magazines have reached a stage where they can be called profitable. He added that the key to success in this sector is to know the subject inside-out.

According to Johari, an important factor to be considered is that all custom publishing is contractual and can move away. "One needs to strategize accordingly, so that the contract stays with them for a longer duration," added Johari.

Gupta of CyberMedia seconded that. "It is the biggest risk this sector faces today. So, one needs to understand the customer very well and meet the marketing objectives." He added that custom publishing is least prone to recession.

The panellists were of the view that one should opt for fully or partially funded ventures, rather than fully advertising dependent initiatives. Collaco said that the first custom publishing was an agricultural journal brought out some 120 years ago. And since then, things have changed. "Out of the 11 titles that we have, only Swagat is fully funded; the rest of them don't want any advertisers from the outside," he emphasized.

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