Anirban Roy Choudhury

"My focus is to delay the sunset of print": Worldwide Media's Deepak Lamba

One of India's leading monthly magazines, 'Femina' recently launched a report, 'All About Women' decoding the behaviour of millennial mothers. Femina is owned by Worldwide Media (WWM), a subsidiary of the Times Group. WWM also owns Bollywood magazine Filmfare and operates Hello, Grazia, Lonely Planet, Good Homes, and Trends in India.

The chief executive officer of the WWM Group, Deepak Lamba took over the leadership role in 2015 and since then, the print magazine powerhouse has started experimenting with digital opportunities. Before taking over as chief executive officer, Lamba was associated with the Times Group as president of Times Strategic Solutions. He joined the Times Group in 2012 after a two-year stint as the business head of Bloomberg UTV.

In an interaction with afaqs!, Lamba shared his observations on the print industry, the importance of Intellectual Properties like television formats and live events for magazines, digital advertising and much more. Here are edited excerpts from the interview.

Why did you think of rolling out a report on millennial women at this stage?

Femina is one of our biggest brands at Worldwide Media. It interacts with women through all its touchpoints, (digital, events...) to get insights out of them, otherwise you cannot create content that fits them. But we have never really put it all together and shared those insights with our clients. Also, media today is a very cluttered place and you have got a bunch of brands that cater to all facets of society. Everybody goes to them and says 'we understand our audience the best'. When everyone is claiming to be the best, it is important to win the trust of clients on the back of facts and figures. This report is our attempt to share with businesses that are interested in this category - millennial-moms. If they use this and help their business grow, they will understand that we know our audience the best and that is the purpose of this report.

Shed some light on the consumption behaviour of Femina readers and how it has changed...

Fashion and beauty are very big when it comes to English consumption. But when we looked at the regional languages, the working moms or the housewives in the South or in Bangladesh want cooking or fiction stories. They don't want to know how to make dal roti, they already have that knowledge. Their interest is in knowing how to make pasta, or other Italian food, or some fancy fast food and we had to focus on that.

You mentioned about growth in Femina's advertising revenue. Has it come on the back of new advertisers or are the old ones spending more?

It's a mix. Some old advertisers continue to thrive while some have fallen by the wayside and then there is a whole flux of new brands. E-commerce is huge. Our joke is that our best years are basis the success of e-commerce companies. And it is not thanks to the big giants - Flipkart and Amazon. Nykaa, for example, is laser focussed on the beauty audience which is very close to Femina. Nykaa partners with us to create one of our Intellectual Properties, 'Nykaa Femina Beauty Awards'. What's heartening is that there are new businesses coming up more frequently than they used to.

The slow growth rate of print makes headlines every now and then. What's your view on the survival of print in the current scenario?

Platforms like print face huge headwinds simply because TV and the Internet have ensured that they are more effective in reaching out to a larger audience. As client businesses grow, they are not interested in a great solution that reaches out to 2000 people. Instead, they want a mass that can understand and appreciate that communication. Size for any media company is very important and unless you are reaching out to a size that matters, you will perish.

After you took over, WWM started experimenting with Digital. How has it panned out so far?

Femina is a brand that stands for 'knowing an Indian woman'. Filmfare is a brand that we believe has its authority on Bollywood. Now, I might want to pick up the magazine and read it while you might want to consume this on the Internet. At the same time, there will be people who would want to watch it on television. We need to ensure that the brands are available for consumers to consume the information we are disseminating across the platforms of their choice. When they do that, our reach grows exponentially. Femina's readership would be around four lakh, gets 3.8 million women on a monthly basis.

What about the average revenue per user? How is it different from print?

We cannot calculate absolute ARPU but we must remember that revenue has a tail effect. Digital today is a very significant part of our revenue and it's not incremental. When it comes to Femina, digital revenue contributes about 35 per cent. Remember, it is just four years old. The corresponding figure is about 30 per cent for the entire group.

How important are live events for magazines?

A lot of print publishers are getting into experiential marketing or events. The simple reason behind that is that the need of the hour is to be able to provide a holistic solution to the client. That's the demand. IPs are also a great marketing tool for you to tell your consumer and client what you stand for. IPs are very important for both revenues and marketing purposes.

What about competition? Who are you competing with?

For Filmfare, the competition is Bombay Times which gives you daily news and a monthly magazine cannot compete with a daily newspaper. The news that we intend to write about a month later is already out the next morning and is delivered at home. That's within print. If we look at digital, there are 100 websites that cater to Bollywood and these offer minute by minute updates. This competition will only get more intense, technology will continue to disrupt. That's competition within that space. People are getting busier and multitasking all the time and to be a part of their attention span, you need to be relevant. It is either I will do this if I have the time or I need to do this because it's passion.

We have seen publishers moving away from ad-led models and introducing paywalls. You run a group that operates specialised publications. Are you also thinking about paywalls?

From less than one lakh rupees four years ago to 30 per cent of the group's revenue, we have seen phenomenal growth in digital. We did digital because we had to, as print growth is declining on a standalone basis. The growth has been on the back of our ability to provide a tailormade solution to clients and I don't see that changing. Let's take Filmfare as an example. It is about Bollywood content, which is available on a hundred other platforms in the Internet for free. The presentation of Filmfare might be different but that is not enough to get an Indian consumer to pay. They will simply log in to the free platforms and access the content. To be successful with a pay model, you need to be an Economist which is providing you unique content because of the people writing it and the perspectives it is sharing.

I will give an example to explain what I mean when I say Indians pay for a unique proposition. We have made Filmfare Awards a live show. I remember when I first proposed the idea of making it a live show and charging the audience, I was asked what we were going to price it at. My boss asked me if I would be selling the front row for Rs 20,000. I replied, "No, two lakh." I was told I was out of my mind. But the show was sold out! The next year, we hiked it to three lakh rupees, that was sold out too. The same was the case the following year when we hiked it to four lakh rupees. The funny part is that the rows at the back, priced at Rs 5000, remain unsold.

But the Cost Per Mille is under stress, so where do you see the opportunities in advertising?

Display advertising is almost dead and so if your strategy is based on display, you will struggle simply because of what the rates are. You need to be solution-oriented, understand a brief and then propose a solution that you can execute on your platform. We created an entire microsite for brands on Femina around Mother's Day and fed it with content about nutrition etc.

So, what does expansion mean for you? Is it enhancing the distribution of the magazines or adding resources to Digital?

My focus is to delay the sunset of print as long as possible. I break this into 'sustain, invest or exit'. I will look at sustaining print and the experiential IPs are a step in that direction. I will invest in businesses where we see growth opportunities. We are taking Filmfare out of Mumbai this time to Assam, and the next year, we might go international. If there are businesses where I feel we are running on a treadmill, where the team is working hard but the business is hardly growing, I would like to take the same bandwidth, energy, time and spend these on a larger business.

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