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IMC 2006: From mass to niche and bridging the digital divide

31-October-2006
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IMC 2006: From mass to niche and bridging the digital divide

The post lunch sessions of the Indian Magazine Congress 2006 kicked off with a discussion on 'Winning editorial strategies in today's digital environments'. The moderator of the session was Sanjoy Narayan, Editor, Business Today and the panelists included Shankar Iyer, Mnagaing Editor, India Today; Anurag Batra, Publisher and Editor-in-Chief, Impact/Pitch; and Shyam Malhotra, Editor-in-Chief, Cyber Media.

Giving an overview of the subject, Narayan said that the digital space was very small in India , when it came to magazines. Largely, the space was taken by both paid and free sites but there were neither any magazine sites in the top websites nor were there any examples of a successful paid magazine website in India.

Taking the discussion forward and once again laying importance on the digital space, Batra said, "This is the space where you get the young populace and the game is about building communities. This audience isn't just consuming content but also creating it."

One some of the reasons that he thought were a barrier here included some proprietors themselves not consuming the medium, lack of serious investment in the medium and the tendency to treat the digital space subservient to the print space.

Malhotra explained that the issue could be seen from two angles – how magazines can use the digital medium in their evolution and secondly, how the digital space can grow further. He pointed out the qualms of the space, where two main issues were of no loyalty and lack of credibility in the digital medium.

Iyer cautioned that the focus and continual talk of the digital space shouldn't lead to magazines losing out on their strengths to catch on the digital traffic. He brought The Economist example here that the Internet issue of the magazine was offered free with the print subscription and not the other way round. He said, "We must leverage our strengths and use the strengths of the digital space like cost and the delivery mechanism to develop winning strategies."

A key point that Malhotra brought out was that the reader was ready to pay for online content if it was in-depth, vertical and specific to a community or a discipline and not if it was just aggregated or horizontal in nature.

Batra drew attention to recent deals like Venture in Forbes for Forbes.com and BusinessWeek's focus only in the digital space and said, "These are clear indicators of where the revenue would be coming from going forward." He also spoke on the importance of search engine optimisation in content.

Another topic that was discussed was that the definition of a 'magazine' was changing with the blurring of lines between mediums and what they offered. The panelists delved on the fact that if indeed with direct-to-home (DTH) the viewer had to view the content at a time and pace convenient to him, what was the differentiation.

The following session was on the move from 'Mass to Niche: Strategies for success for today and tomorrow'. Santosh Desai, President, McCann Erickson, was the moderator of the session. The speakers included Mike Brennan, Publishing Director, Reader's Digest; Shefalee Vasudev, Editor, Marie Claire; Hormazd Sorabjee, Editor, Haymarket; Archana Pillai, Ogaan; and B Srinivasan, Joint MD and Publisher, Vikatan Group.

Desai opened the session laying out what the media had been covering continually – magazines were sliding and dabbling more on the niche space than general interest appeared to be an obvious solution. The panelists didn't disagree but brought in different perspectives to the issue.

Srinivasan said that even as niche was no longer cliché, magazines in India were at a nascent stage, where players were adding mas's'ala to niche just in case, pricing was below par and given target audience feedback and being language driven, mass may eventually become niche.

Bishnoi emphasised on relevance of content and then focus on delivery systems, which would eventually lead to the success of any vehicle. Sorabjee, however, was of the opinion that the specialist space was picking up in India and had come to a level where the attention on expertise on the subject had become far more important than the skill to write.

Pillai spoke on identifying gaps and filling them and in the process knowing the relation that the brand had with the TG in order to know what was the right strategy with the brand. She also spoke on the need to different between niche in reference to small in numbers and being specialist and devising strategies based on what category of the two did the product fall in.

The panelists delved again on the need to create communities and brought out examples where sections in mass products grew enough to be spun off in niche products and cases where niche products still maintained an air of mass about them in the process of attracting more numbers to the product.

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