At the Indian Magazine Congress 2010, the first panel discussion was a spirited one, circling the various challenges faced by editors and publishers in a world of convergence of different platforms and media.
Some of the issues discussed included the way most editorial teams struggle with social media; the 'Chinese Wall' between editorial and advertising teams at publications; the pressing issue of generating content for several media platforms that stretch beyond print, such as the mobile space, online and events; and sourcing, training and retaining multi-media savvy talent.
Gupta kick-started the discussion by asserting how, in order to create a premium magazine brand, one needs to "think multimedia" and that becomes a matter of relevance that rules out the option of staying rooted to print alone. He, however, cautioned that when digital becomes the centre of gravity, one tends to lose focus on what is relevant to the magazine.
Gupta also addressed the issue of apparent disconnect between the multiple platforms for the same brand. Hiring the right staff was deemed a solution to this issue as well. "We trained our entire team for multimedia," he continued. "Also, we specially hired people from the blogosphere for this purpose."
Echoing the view, Pillai contributed, "Multimedia journalists are the need of the hour today; we need to equip our journalists with the relevant skill set to tackle these platforms so that they can increase their own bandwidth. When one sees Amitabh Bachhan using social media to stay connected to one and all at the age of 67, we magazine journalists can certainly take a cue! There is tremendous multimedia potential of 'the magazine'."
He added that the point is to draw the consumer "back to the brand" as the digital space serves to reinforce the brand.
To this, Menezes concurred, "Hiring younger people helps as they're more comfortable with new media; very senior editors are often not. So the challenge is at the recruitment stage because we need ultra-reliable talent."
Interestingly, she continued about how now there is a whole new 'W' to the existing four 'W's (Who, Why, What and When) - namely 'Which'. "This stands for which platform one must use - given the choices available today," she explained. She added that while a website has a distinct identity and works more like a news site, the in-depth experience of the content can be enjoyed via the print medium.
Sivanand was of a rather different view; he claimed that convergence is making the lives of print media professionals hard, magazines in particular. He was quick to add, though, that it is not all bad, as after all, BBC Podcast, a show he adores, is the convergence of several different media.
"What I am really against is making content available online for free. Those who've done this, years back, have come to regret it today!" he exclaimed. He asserted that making print content accessible online for no cost would adversely affect circulation. "It would kill us; I dread giving away our content online," he said. He added that the Reader's Digest website serves the purpose of luring readers to the real product - the magazine - and that his team is currently working to develop separate content for the website.
"If a website generates traffic then it's alright to utilise it to get online subscriptions but it is crucial to put a premium on content," he claimed.
As the discussion rolled on and was fuelled by questions and clarifications from the audience, issues addressed included the topic of new media space to push forward both the parent brand as well as individual brands, and that of maintaining a healthy divide between advertising and editorial content. "Though editorial resources are increasingly being used for events, ads must never determine editorial content - there's a dirty phrase, 'paid news', associated with this," said Sivanand.
In conclusion, Gupta reiterated, "Regardless of the platform, the mandate now is to bring back the magic into magazine journalism!"