Benita Chacko

In the long run subscription revenue to be better for magazines: The Hindu's Suresh Balakrishna

The chief revenue officer speaks about the revamp of its magazines- Sportstar and Frontline- and what it will do for the business.

Recently, The Hindu Group revamped its magazines – ‘Sportstar’ and ‘Frontline’. The sports magazine was revamped after six years in May and the political magazine, after nine years in June.

Suresh Balakrishna, chief revenue officer, The Hindu, says the redesign was undertaken to increase engagement of the present readers and to draw in new readers. 

"Both these magazines have not had a facelift for some time now and so we felt it was time to give it a shot in the arm. More readers and more engaged readers can help us charge the advertisers better," he says. 

Magazines have been struggling to survive for sometime now. The revamp has brought in increased advertiser interest in these magazines breathing in a new lease of life. Post the redesign, it is expecting the ad revenue for both the magazines to grow by at least 100% and the circulation to grow by around 40%. It has also opened up more opportunities for advertisers. 

"Earlier the two magazines would rarely do any editorial integration. Today advertisers want to get as close to content as possible. For example, sponsoring the poster or carrying advertorials on different state governments," he explains.

On its digital platforms, currently it allows only display advertising. However, it is beginning to take baby steps towards video content and podcasts. "Sports lends itself a lot to video and podcasts. So we're going to explore that over the next year," he says.

Since all its content is behind a paywall, it offers to its advertisers a premium-paying audience"

We are getting away from impressions and pageviews and instead focussing on the quality of audience that we are delivering to advertisers. The time spent on our website is much higher than the free access websites. When somebody pays for content they spend more time and read more articles. They read, on an average, four articles," he says.

Balakrishna believes that in the long run subscription revenue will be better for magazines. "As of now it is still skewed towards ad revenue but that's changing rapidly. For digital, this equation will change in the next three years and for print ad revenues will remain dominant for at least seven to eight years more."

Last September, on the occasion of its 144th anniversary, The Hindu Group revamped its newspapers, The Hindu and The Hindu businessline. The Group undertook the major revamp exercise to contemporise the designs and make it more reader-friendly for mobile users. 

"All our digital products are behind the paywall. If the consumer is paying then he needs a contemporary, well-designed product. Our older design was not very mobile-friendly," he says.

During the pandemic, the entire print business faced several uncertainties. But when it bounced back it gave the publication the courage to relaunch.

"Post-Covid the print medium bounced back, both in terms of circulation and revenue. Once the revenue began rising, we felt we need to do justice to the readers and invest in the brand. So when the market situations improved, we started investing in them," he adds.


In the long run subscription revenue to be better for magazines: The Hindu's Suresh Balakrishna

The magazine has now evolved to a modern, contemporary look. Its font and masthead has become sleek and it has organised its white space to create a sense of spaciousness. The articles also have QR codes to integrate the print and digital editions. Scanning them takes the readers to more articles on the subject.

Vaishna Roy
Vaishna Roy

"It makes the magazine look airy, light and sophisticated. It looks very stylish and upmarket now," says Vaishna Roy, editor of Frontline. 

The magazine has acquired a more vibrant appearance and it has managed to break through its serious perception. 

"We don't want it to be slotted as a serious and boring magazine, limited only for the intellectuals. We wanted to break out of that image. It is still a serious magazine, but it's also got some interesting bits on art, culture and entertainment. More than anything else it is a contemporary read," Balakrishna says.

In the long run subscription revenue to be better for magazines: The Hindu's Suresh Balakrishna

In terms of its content, the magazine goes beyond the news and includes culture, cinema, art, architecture and heritage. 

However, the target audience for the magazine remains the same. "Frontline is a prescribed read for UPSC aspirants. Beyond them, it is for anyone who is interested in serious reading and long-form journalism," he says.

At a time of short attention spans, how do long-form content fare?

Roy says, "I agree that people's attention span has reduced. But I believe there are enough sticklers for good long-form journalism. Because of this prevailing notion of the dropping attention span of readers, all publications are rushing to be on the short-form gravy train. We are not going to join that bandwagon. There is a greater need now for considered, quiet, calm and long-form journalism. That space must be filled by somebody and that somebody is us."


In the long run subscription revenue to be better for magazines: The Hindu's Suresh Balakrishna

Meanwhile, the sports magazine has got a dynamic and functional look. It now has bigger images and bolder typeface. It has added two arrows to its logo, indicating motion and kinetic energy, representing sports. All its digital assets is represented with a single 'S' in the logo. 

Ayon Sengupta
Ayon Sengupta

Both the print and online editions have colour-coded its content. For example, cricket is denoted with blue, football with green and tennis with yellow. "This color coding gives the readers a seamless experience. They can look at the colour of a page and figure out which sport it is about," says Ayon Sengupta, editor of Sportstar.

It has also added flourescent yellow highlighters to the text. "When we used to study as kids or when we look through a document, we highlight the points with markers. We have drawn inspiration from it and used it to guide the readers to the important points in the story," he adds.

In the long run subscription revenue to be better for magazines: The Hindu's Suresh Balakrishna

In terms of content, it will have 60-70% long format stories, for old-time readers who pick up the magazine for its in-depth sports stories. It has also got 30% short-form content, which has a crisp Instagram-type feel. This is to attract newer readers who are looking for bite-sized information.

"For existing readers we wanted to create an experience that feels like a warm embrace- a familiar friend with a stylish makeover. We have kept their preferences in mind. So for the loyal readers, they will feel right at home. But we also want to catch the hearts and minds of the new readers who have not yet discovered Sportstar," he says.

Today 85% readers access Sportstar on a mobile device. "The way people consume news has changed quite a bit in the last five years. A lot of the news is consumed on handheld devices. So the idea behind the redesign was to bring these new age techniques of journalism into both the print and the online format," says Sengupta.

However, despite the revamp the Sportstar TG remains the same. "We are looking at a sports enthusiast, who is not happy seeing just live action on TV but wants to read more, preserve photographs, posters and know the statistics. Sports should be more than a passing fancy. The age and gender does not matter," he explains.

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