This one is just like the scores of mythological stories with a happy ending that it has brought before the reader. After facing the prospect of near extinction due to several bouts of labour strife, Chandamama has managed to revive itself phoenix-like and is now aggressively charting out new areas of growth. The 54-year old cult brand is eyeing all possible areas of diversification that sync with its area of core competence - animation, story-telling and, of course, entertainment and children.
"After looking at all the avenues open to us, we figured that the best description for us would be to say that we are a content management company," said B Viswanatha Reddi, managing director, Chandamama. The group, which restructured itself in December 1999 with the help of Karvy Consultants, has today not just a changed management structure, but also a new aggressive outlook - something that was missing even until a year ago. It has formed a new company Chandamama India Limited to take over the Chandamama brand, rework the content and revive the magazine.
Significantly, the group was able to leverage the tremendous goodwill that it built for itself over the years and did find takers for its change mantra. Karvy Consultants helped it generate funds to the tune of Rs 5 crore through a private placement with various institutions such as Morgan Stanley, Bank of Punjab and Tata Finance (through its subsidiary Nishkalp Investment).
After getting the house in order, Chandamama went ahead with a series of content alliances. It has signed on syndication agreements with Midday, Hittawad, Dina Malan, The New Indian Express and Aims (a local education bulletin directed at students in Chennai). It has produced a 13-episode epic serial for DD-Hyderabad, for which the response has been "heartening". Last but not the least, it has joined hands with www.schoolnet.com for generating content for school children.
Goodwill is not the only thing it is banking on. Numbers also matter. The magazine, published in 12 languages currently, has a circulation of 3 lakh (according to the Indian Newspaper Society figures), which, according to Reddi, "is not bad by any standard". A substantial share of the magazine sales comes from bookstalls and newstands. However, a couple of language editions enjoy larger support from subscribers. "We have not gone in for ABC as it was hardly a year when the audit was happening and we wanted to reflect our full growth potential rather than jump the gun," he says.
Chandamama stands out despite - rather, because of - its roller coaster ride. Though India has had a long history of children's magazines, many have fallen on hard days. After the initial spurt in the 1970s, there was a lull in children's magazines. Children's World, one of the first magazines brought out on a quarterly basis by the Children's Book Trust, ran for four years. The publishers of national newsmagazine India Today launched Target around the same time, which was positioned initially a children's magazine and was subsequently turned into a youth magazine. Another mainstream magazine, Caravan (later renamed Alive), brought out its own children's magazine called Champak in the late seventies. The Times of India newspaper group started Parag and The Hindustan Times newspaper group began to publish Nandan, both in Hindi and from Delhi. But Parag folded up in a few years.
The country's commercial and publishing capital of Mumbai is home to publications like the Amar Chitra Katha series of comics for children; Twinkle, which offers science and general knowledge in comic form; and other children's magazines like Balvikas and Balavihar brought out by spiritual organisations.
Increasingly, south India, known for its high literacy levels, is fast turning into a powerhouse for children's magazines in the country. Newspaper groups in southern India, like the Malayala Manorama and the Mathrubhoomi, started their own publications Balarama and Balabhumi way back in the 1970s. Kerala has as many as 18 children's magazines published by various groups. A popular magazine from Kerala, called Eureka, is brought out by the Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad, a prominent regional group working for the promotion of scientific attitude. Other popular children's magazines coming out from southern India are the Children's Digest, published by the Rashtra Deepika group, Wisdom, now in its 27th year, and Gokulam, now in its 12th year, the last two being published from Chennai.
March last year saw the launch of yet another magazine for pre-schoolers. Magic Pot, published by the Malayala Manorama group, is a 50-page colour magazine priced at Rs 12. It promises to help with the "extremely tough job of entertaining pre-schoolers," opines R. Ramaswamy, deputy manager, circulation, Malayala Manorama. The group is now busy devising strategies to push Magic Pot's reach. "We have a circulation of 70,000 and this is largely through subscriptions. We have spoken to several schools and this has become part of the syllabus in a few pre-schools in Chennai," he says. While Magic Pot is targetted at pre-schoolers, Chandamama claims it draws in readers aged between eight and eighty years.
The question is: why haven't children's publications really pushed their potential to tap advertisers when a channel like Cartoon Network - which is in English and is relatively new - has secured a place in the advertisers' media plan already? While Ramaswamy maintains that the (Malayala Manorama) group is "not really looking at advertisements beyond the back cover for the moment", Chandamama is clearly open to the idea of beefing up its coffers with ad revenues.
"Chandamama has several pluses working in its favour to attract ad revenues. It has a solid brand, cuts across age groups, it has reach through several languages and, like any niche channel, reaches a specific consumer set which could be very useful to the advertiser," opines RK Girish Menon, media planning director, HTA, Chennai.
The reason, according to him, why most children's publications could have lost out is because they never very market savvy, says a media observer, based in Delhi. "It could also be that many children today do not develop the habit of reading, and would watch television instead. If they do, that should mean a lot to the marketer," she says. "Repeat reading, longer shelf-life and brand loyalty are opportunities that should not be overlooked," says Menon.
Obviously, there is a big opportunity waiting to be tapped.
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