Speaking at the exchange4media Conclave 2009 in Mumbai on June 3, Andrew Rashbass, CEO, The Economist Group, defined ‘Mass Intelligence’ as a key demographic that The Economist targeted. According to him, ‘Mass Intelligence’ as an audience was growing in India, which had led to the growth of the magazine in the country.
The day-long Conclave was presented by Star News and powered by Hindustan Times. Yuva was the associate sponsor for the event.
Referring to various forms of challenging and sophisticated content such as the consumption of American TV, classical music, the Opera, etc., Rashbass stressed that ‘Mass Intelligence’ was on the rise across markets in the world. He further said that the old categorisation of media no longer existed. “Modern economy is driven by knowledge. More the seniority and wealth you own, more the challenging publications you would want to read,” he noted. On whether the gap between mass and mass intelligence was shrinking, he opined that a lot many people were happy to make that transition in India.
Speaking further on the Indian market, Rashbass said, “The circulation of The Economist magazine in India is not as much as it is in countries like the US and the UK.” He, however, added that several Indians (other than those who fell under the ‘elite audiences’ category) had now developed a fondness for challenging and sophisticated reading than in the past.
Rashbass informed that the magazine had seen a 40-50 per cent rise in circulation in India since last year and that the growth was primarily coming from younger audiences.
Rashbass’ presentation was followed by a Q&A session, where Anurag Batra, Managing Director and Editor-in-Chief, exchange4media Group, asked him if paid content on the Internet was the future for publishing groups. To this Rashbass replied, “I agree there is a trend that more and more content online is becoming paid. But payment is not a fundamental problem. The issue is of engagement and the success depends on how effectively you can engage your audiences and deliver meaningful value.” According to him, one risk of putting a price tag to content was that the audiences could well go to the competitors or other content offering sites that offered content for free.
Sam Balsara, Managing Director and Chairman, Madison World, then asked whether there were any landmarks that The Economist was looking at that would truly mean the arrival of the magazine in the country. To this Rashbass clarified that they did not look at the business in India that way. “We look at the potential of the market and grow as the Mass Intelligence grows in this country,” he said.
It may be noted that Rashbass was instrumental in bringing about a structural change in the Economist Group last year from a function model to a regional one.