"Your questions are totally premature. We are only in preliminary discussions with Reader's Digest to explore various possibilities," Aroon Purie, editor-in-chief, India Today Group, told this correspondent when asked to throw light on the acquisition of Reader's Digest from the Tata-owned RDI Print & Publishing. By now it is common knowledge that Living Media, publishers of the weekly news magazine India Today, is in talks with the Tatas to buy out the Indian imprint of the monthly magazine. If the deal goes through, the assets and database of RDI Print & Publishing would eventually move to Living Media besides a transfer of the license acquired from Reader Digest Inc USA to publish the magazine in the country.
When contacted, Sanjay Johri, managing director, RDI Print & Publishing, said much revolves around the "transfer of this license to Living Media". "We have been publishing Reader's Digest under a license from the parent company with the articles coming in from the international pool and a small proportion being contributed by India," he added.
Traditionally, the magazine has been a mixed bag with a thrust on providing something for everybody. Topics covered range from humour, science and technology, crime and self-help, to personality profiles, health-related articles and stories with an enduring moral or theme. The response it evokes spans a wide spectrum - from total lack of interest to great loyalty among a select base. As a Mumbai-based media analyst points out, "Reader's Digest has never had a point of view. It's tasteless, much like soyabean."
Thus with a change in ownership on the cards, will the inherent flavour of the magazine undergo a change? Will its movement from a conglomerate that had little editorial control (RDI Print & Publishing is primarily involved in finance and general management) to a media and publishing powerhouse have a bearing on the content?
No, say analysts unanimously. "I don't think Living Media will change the editorial posture of the magazine. They may, at the most, Indianise, the predominantly foreign content," says Amit Ray, executive vice-president - media, Mudra Communications.
"The Digest is one magazine that can be read anytime of the year," points out PRP Nair, senior vice-president, Media Direction (media arm of RK Swamy/BBDO). "Its personality is clear in the minds of readers. I don't think news would feature in the magazine because people these days are anyways getting an overdose of it with the multitude of channels giving you news on the hour and every hour."
Interestingly, more than a decade ago, RDI launched the Hindi edition of the Digest called Sarvotam, which never really took off. Hence whether Indianising the content will really be the key to draw more readers is purely a game of wait and watch. Says a Mumbai-based media planner, "An average Digest reader is literate, peace loving, urban or semi-urban and one who is seriously concerned about life. I am not too sure whether it is an attractive draw for people in small towns and villages, who are quite uncomfortable with English and would actually find the cover price of Rs 39.50, quite exorbitant."
Some analysts however maintain that distribution, which is Living Media's strong point, will play a key role in pushing sales for the product in the smaller towns. "Living Media's distribution network will help and will positively have a bearing on the reach of the magazine," claims Nair.
The Digest sold 4.5 lakh copies for the month of July with 4.6 lakh copies of the August issue slated to go into print. It is the fifth most widely read magazine in the country (urban sector), according to the latest NRS with a readership of over 30 lakh. Bulk of its turnover is generated through subscriptions, which accounts for 85 per cent of sales with the balance coming from off-the-stand sales.
Another key question is, with FDI in print finally being approved, will this mean that the doors are now open for Reader's Digest Inc. USA to enter the country?
"It is difficult to predict at this juncture," says a media observer. "There are still a number of grey areas in the Government ruling that need to be sorted out," he adds. Johri, on his part, prefers to dodge the issue saying, " If they wish, they may. I am not aware of anything." © 2002 agencyfaqs!