While Kannada dailies are using every trick in the book to enhance product value, the same cannot be said about the magazines. Despite reader interests changing drastically, most magazines have held on to the same content for the past decade, leading to a steady slump in circulation. With both readers and advertisers shifting favour to other mediums, the future of magazines looks gloomy.
Sudha, the weekly Kannada magazine from the publishers of Prajavani, boasted a circulation of 2 lakh. Today this figure has shrunk to an alarming 75,000. Kasturi, the Kannada Reader’s Digest of sorts from Samyukta Karnataka, enjoyed a circulation of around 55,000 copies three years ago. Today, it has to make do with a mere 40,000. The decline in circulation has been so severe that Vijay Karnataka, which published two magazines, Nutana and Bhavana, recently decided to wind up both. “We were simply not interested in the magazines anymore. Instead of concentrating on them, we decided to focus on building Vijay Karnataka (a Kannada news daily),” says Vishweshwar Bhat, Executive Managing Editor, Vijay Karnataka.
Vishweshwar Bhat attributes the decline in circulation to the generic disinterest in magazines across different languages and categories. While the degree to which each publication has been affected differs, the ailment seems common. Many accept that the rapidly changing lifestyle and reader habits were not reflected in the magazines’ layout or content. A look across different magazines in the category shows a common pattern: two serials, two stories, ten poems, two features, one profile, one interview, one current affairs write-up, and a few tourism/cultural/movie centric pieces. This content-mix, which has remained unaltered over decades, has long ceased to excite readers. “It is true Kannada magazines have carried on with the same layout, design, quality of paper and content that was used for the last decade. Our readers have changed their interests and are looking for something new,” says A. G. Bhat, Executive Officer, Printer and Publisher, Samyukta Karnataka.
Television’s rapid in-roads over the past 10 years have only aggravated matters. With the number of niche channels increasing year on year, magazines are left with nothing new to offer. “Today, television not only offers news and perspective, but also entertainment, infotainment and a host of programmes for a variety of audiences. With these channels wearing a newer, contemporary look, they are offering magazines a very stiff competition,” admits D.B. Dutta, GM, Advertising, The Printers (Mysore) Pvt. Ltd., the publishers of Sudha and Mayura.
Weekly and monthly magazines, which were never a favourite with advertisers, are now facing a renewed threat with dropping circulation figures. “Agencies do not come forward and recommend magazines. The only way we can find advertisers is by tying up with FMCG companies like those of soaps and toothpastes,” reveals A. G. Bhat. However, according to Vaishali Verma, GM, Universal McCann, the root of the problem lies elsewhere. “Unlike Kerala or Tamil Nadu, Karnataka does not have a strong association with magazines. Due to this, they have been easily replaced by other evolving mediums like television and advertisers do not sense a vacuum with magazines not receiving as much importance as they used to,” she states.
In an attempt to rekindle reader interest, most Kannada magazines are chalking out a comprehensive revamping activity. While Sudha plans to conduct a thorough study of what readers are looking for, Karmaveera and Kasturi are all set to bring innovation into every department. “We are looking for some new blood. We want to integrate new ideas into our content and we're sure that it will fetch us good results,” says A. G. Bhat. Whether these alterations will succeed in boosting circulation figures, and more importantly, rekindle advertiser interest is a factor high on every player’s mind. Verma, on her part, believes that the changes will give the segment its much-needed shot in the arm. “Readers are constantly looking for something new. So a more reader friendly format and style would, of course, help even from the advertisers’ point of view,” she says.
Given such assurance, the coming months should see some intense action in a sector that has remained dormant for long.