Yes, we have said this before - magazines have had a poor showing in NRS 2002. Overall, the readership base for magazines in India dropped by 8 per cent and that of Hindi magazines in particular declined by nearly 5.4 per cent over the previous round. In specific terms, of the 76 lakh readers that magazines lost overall, as many as 60 lakh dropped out from Hindi magazines alone.
And among Hindi magazines, women's magazines have been the worst hit. Check out the numbers. Grihshobha's readership has gone down from 67.4 lakh (NRS 2001) to 60.5 lakh (NRS 2002); Chitralekha's readership was 8.6 lakh in 2001 and is 7.2 lakh in 2002; Grihalakshmi's readership has gone down from 33.3 lakh to 27.5 lakh during the same period, Kadambani is down to 13.3 lakh from 15.8 lakh; Sarita has moved to 34 lakh to 30.7 lakh; Vanitha is at 11.1 lakh from 11.4 lakh; and Meri Saheli's readership too has declined from 34 lakh to 33.8 lakh.
Analysts point at various reasons to explain this drop. A Delhi-based publisher says, "Chief among them is the growing popularity of the afternoon soaps, which compete with the same audience as Hindi women's magazines. The second is the perception that print is cheap - a feeling perpetuated by the price wars among the English dailies and the English general interest and business magazines. This, in turn, makes them unwilling to shell out the premium on language magazines."
His argument is not misplaced. Take the aggressiveness of the various television channels. Till now, the battle among the three top satellite channels STAR, Sony and Zee were being fought during the evening prime-time band. The battleground has shifted now. Take STAR, which has branded the afternoon slot (12.30 pm to 4.30 pm) as 'afternoon prime time'. To understand how the channels - especially STAR - has converted that time band into a TVR pumping machine, view the chart.
While vying for the afternoon share, TV channels have cut into the time devoted otherwise to reading magazines. "When do women get the time to read magazines? Once they are through with their daily chores, which is in the afternoon. Which is also the time when channels are trying to lure women with exciting soaps," explains Manish Verma, head, publishing and marketing, Diamond Magazines. And TV has a natural advantage over magazines. "TV is a more dynamic and engaging medium. Most of these magazines are monthlies, while TV is a daily feed." Adds Alok Sanwal, general manager, brand development, Dainik Jagran, "Many advertisers are taking the afternoon time-band very seriously because that is the time the when they can target women."
Observers also say that Hindi women's magazines lack attitude and most of them have failed to keep pace with the changing aspirations of the women they are targeting. "The point is they cannot afford to be general anymore. These magazines need to be more focused in content and have a certain style," suggests Verma of Diamond Magazines. That, in turn, would go a long way into changing the advertisers' perceptions about Hindi women's magazines. "Grihshobha and Grihalakshmi have a wide readership in Punjab. While women there are fashion conscious, they do not read Femina. So while a marketer like Revlon might want to target these women, the image of these magazines stops them from putting their ads in them," points out Verma.
The constant price war among various English dailies and magazines has made matters worse. "To increase their circulation and readership, these publications and magazines have cut their prices. As a result, people perceive print to be cheap. Shelling out Rs 35-Rs 40 for a magazine is a problem, because these readers have been spoilt by these publications and they have come to expect more for less," says a desolate Paresh Nath, editor and publisher, Delhi Press Magazines.
But that does not imply that Hindi women's magazines are not making money. "Of course we are! How do you think we are still in the business?" asks Nath. Interestingly, market sources indicate the advertising and subscription revenues for Hindi women's magazines overall have grown by 25 per cent over the last four years.
Another problem that magazine publishers in general are battling with are the defects in the postal system. And that prevents them for getting aggressive with subscription. "In the US more than 75 per cent of the magazines are sold through subscription. Here in India, more than 50 per cent of the copies are lost in transit. There is no way to account for these copies," says Paresh Nath. Paradoxically, for Hindi women's magazines subscription is the best way to reach more women simply because not many women actually go to the stands and purchase these magazine.
Finally - and this seems to be a common problem for most of these magazines - the issue of quality. Trilok Kumar Jha, assistant editor, Grihalakshmi, explains, "What happens is that many who contribute articles to these magazines are freelancers and are underpaid. To get an extra buck, these freelancers give their articles to news agencies, which in turn, circulate and recycle them in dozens of other magazines." Adds Verma, "As things stand now, it is so difficult to distinguish one Hindi women's magazine from the other."
Will the tide turn? Verma has some suggestions on how to stem the rot. "One, the frequency of the magazines should be increased, and, two, they have to be very specific in their offerings."
Or maybe there is no reason to worry so much. As Paresh Nath of Delhi Press Magazines says, "Those who want to read will read any way."