The Adventures of Harry Potter and the Goosebumps series may lace the windows of most book stalls, but in reality, print space amongst kids is fairly limited. Reading habits are fast dwindling, thanks to CD’s, DVD’s, video games, soaps and all the works. While television space for children seems to be mushrooming at a tremendous pace, print has taken a backseat with publications such as Champak, Chandamama and Tinkle all showing tremendous decline in popularity and readership. This explains why leading newspapers and dailies fail to incorporate a supplement or a page that caters purely to kids.
After the initial spurt in 1970’s, there has been a lull in children’s magazines. Publishers of the national newsmagazine India Today launched Target a couple of years ago, which was initially a children’s magazine but soon got transformed into a teens magazine on account of dwindling readership figures. The Times of India group started Parag, which was a magazine in Hindi and was being published from Delhi, but it had a short lifespan. Within the first few years of its existence, Parag closed shop.
Says Nutan Sen, GM (Marketing), Asian Age, “We tried bringing out a separate supplement for kids on 14th November last year, on the occasion of Children’s Day. But due to lack of advertiser support, it never worked out. The fact remains that brands like GluconD, Kissan, Rasna and Kellogg’s may rely on pester power but they tend to focus their efforts on television. For one, print is just not geared to give them the kind of visibility like television can; the visuals are a lot more impactful on television. Plus channels like Cartoon Network are extremely popular amongst children, while reading material falls a poor second.”
She adds, “It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that children are not too interested in reading published matter in the current day. They prefer logging on to websites like cartoonnetwork.com, checking out video games, watching television soaps etc. And wherever readership does exist, the market is already taken up by books like Harry Potter, Famous Five and Goosebumps. This explains why publications like Champak, Amar Chitra Katha and Chandamama are just not as popular as they used to be.”
The same chain of thought is shared by I Venkat, Director, Eenadu Publications. He asserts, “Almost every mainline newspaper carried some kind of tidbits for the kids at one time. But with the years going by, and the sinking readership figures, the trend has moved in the reverse direction. Inspite of all odds, we have a kiddie section on Sundays, which has been carried forward to a two page special on Mondays, titled ‘Hi Gujji.’ But within this space, you wouldn’t be able to trace a single strip of advertising! It’s entirely our own initiative at bringing on kids content.”
He adds, “In a similar vein, you would find that the Hindu brings out Young World every Friday, but with practically no endorsements. The fact remains that most brands relying on pester power, show enthusiasm at the onset of any kids’ related effort in print. But once the effort sees the light of day, the enthusiasm weans rapidly. In the end, nearly all the brands throng to television channels that cater to kids, and print is left as a poor second.”
In that case, does Venkat ever see the space for kids, taking off in print? He answers blandly, “As things stand today, I think not. It’s increasingly difficult to sell printed matter for kids, and that’s the biggest hurdle that faces most publications today.”
From the media planner’s side of the fence, the analogy is pretty simple. It’s all a question of demand and supply. Sandeep Tarkas, Head, OMD believes, “Where’s the demand for printed matter, anyway? Once upon a time, kids must have been enamored by Amar Chitra Katha’s and Champak’s but the same doesn’t hold true today. The readership generated for Enid Blyton and Harry Potter in India is abysmal. What rules, is computer games, CD’s, Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon etc. Brands wouldn’t bother investing in something, which doesn’t provide the required returns. And that’s where the story ends. Newspapers are aware that a page for kids is probably a losing proposition, which is why, they don’t show much enthusiasm for the same.”
Hiren Pandit, GM, Mindshare agrees. He asserts, “It’s a vicious circle. Newspapers don’t carve out supplements for children, because there is no advertiser support, which further diminishes the case for readership. And advertisers don’t come by, because the readership figures don’t match up.”
He adds, “Brands such as Kellogg’s derive a lot of mileage from concerted client solutions, created by channels like Cartoon Network. And honestly, with the media consumption habits in mind, I don’t see print space (for children) taking off anytime in the near future.”
As television channels catering to kids mushroom by the dozen, publications and special supplements are heading towards the exit door. A chicken and egg situation, that’s the only way to describe it. And a change in attitude can be the only prescription that can remedy the current state of affairs.