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Business houses and publishing: Is there a synergy?

By , agencyfaqs! | In | October 30, 2001
Vijay Mallya buys out Cine Blitz raising an old question: Can a successful business empire manage a publication, when its "core competency" lies somewhere else?



agencyfaqs!
MUMBAI, October 30

Money. It cannot buy the most valuable things in life. And sometimes, not even the not-so-valuable things. Like a few more readers for your paper, or magazine.

Business houses venturing into publishing have met different fates. Some are dead. Like the Ambani-owned The Business and Political Observer and Vijaypath Singhania's The Indian Post. Others are just cruising along like The Asian Age. Some others are seriously sick, as is The Pioneer, once owned by the Thapars. Of course, there are those that are thriving - like Outlook, which is controlled by Hathway Investments. Yet the uncertainty is not preventing more leaps.

In a recent foray, UB Group chairman Vijay Mallya acquired 51 per cent stake in the ailing film magazine Cine Blitz, edited by Rita Karl Mehta, and published by RIFA Publications. According to industry sources, the stake has been acquired from Ketan Somaiya and the Mehta family. The remaining 49 per cent shareholding will be acquired by October 31, 2001.

Cine Blitz claims a circulation of 1,84,000 copies and a place among the Top 3 film magazines in the country, with Filmfare (1,70,000, unofficial) and Stardust (2.5 lakh, unofficial) the other two in the trio. Cine Blitz has not taken part in the Audit Bureau of Circulation survey last year.

Sales of Cine Blitz have stagnated for the last three years. So what could the deep pockets of Mallya do for the magazine? Turning around a paper or magazine takes much more than just an unlimited supply of money.

Says Bharat Kapadia, the managing editor and associate publisher of the Chitralekha Group, "Publishing is not like any other industry, where the more you sell, the more you are at the top. The editor must appeal to the reader, and the reader to the advertiser. That can be a difficult chain to reproduce."

But that alone does not explain things. Many businessmen have overcome far grittier challenges. After all, from humble beginnings, Reliance has grown so big that its production of petroleum products and petrochemicals accounts for 3 per cent of India's gross domestic product. And, yet, when it came to running a humble newspaper, the Ambanis found the going tough.

Some media veterans say a major reason for the failure of big business in publishing is that the itch to becomes "hands-on" and use the paper to serve other business interests becomes to much to resist. One of India's best editors, Vinod Mehta, in his autobiography, "Mr. Editor, How Close are you to the PM?" put it well. "Despite their exuberant and proclaimed faith in editorial and press freedom, the temptation to "use" their own paper is well nigh irresistible. For instance, the two weeks I spent with Dhirubhai Ambani's Sunday Observer in 1989 were pure terror because the audacity with which they were trying to topple V.P. Singh took my breath away."

Mehta is an authority on the subject, having irked some of the most powerful barons in the industry, and, yet, at the same time, showing that the pattern of ownership alone does not decide success. Since 1995, Mehta has been at the helm of the Hathway Investments-promoted Outlook, one of India's more successful general interest magazines. The elusive Rajan Raheja, who owns Outlook, has a business empire that straddles everything from ceramic tiles to luxury hotels. Raheja's "hands-off" style could be one reason. It certainly makes good marketing sense.

Says Tapan Pal, president & CEO, Zenith Media, India, "Unlike other brands, creating a media brand means convincing the consumer to have an emotional bond with the product. The gestation period is much longer. This is where big business houses go wrong. Before they create the media brand, they often give priority to their other interests. This defeats the very purpose of creating the media brand."

In a brutal marketplace, it is a challenge that Mallya will have to rise to.

© 2001 agencyfaqs!