The Indian magazine industry has been resilient in the face of challenges. Over a period of time, magazines not only survived competition from the audio visual medium but also from digital. Magazine businesses evolved to find a friend in digital. The path however has not been an easy one.
While digital was to give a new lease of life to the industry with the advent of tablets and apps that would make magazine content accessible on the go for readers, players are still facing issues, in some cases even impacting survival. True to the nature of the magazine industry however, companies have found ways to address the challenges.
For Anant Nath, Executive Director, Delhi Press Group, there may be a need to revisit the fundamentals that the magazine industry has been built on, some characteristics of which he believes may have been lost in the digital world.
“The world of digital media compels publishers to be obsessed with page views, with Facebook and Twitter numbers, in creating high speed and high volume content and presents the danger of getting caught into the culture of click baiting. Magazine publishers must not forget the basic traits that built us in the first place,” he commented while speaking the 10th Indian Magazine Congress.
Nath believes that publishers erred, globally and in India, in offering up their content for free, hoping to make money from advertising. Online display advertising accounted for the newsroom but not in the cost of creating content leaving a gaping hole in the business plan, and a severely depleted return on investment.
“We cannot lose sight of the foundation of our business, and explore ways of how the content is paid for. Whatever we do, we do keeping in mind that we ask our readers to pay for content,” he said. He advises the approach of a gradual paywall, focus on micropayments, creating a content hierarchy and doing less but with more value.
Nath’s advice focuses on content and distribution. Among the list of things that a publisher could do, he calls for re-energising the offline sales team with an emphasis on circulation and motivating aspects of the supply chain that can drive sales. He advocates a paid approach for online content that discourages the view that magazines are a 24-hour content website. “Magazines have emotional bonding. It should not be easy to replace the content that a magazine journalist or editor puts together. We have to understand that magazines were always a quality, not a quantity, medium,” Mr Nath said.
He reminded the need to grow reach – an aspect where magazines, and print per se, already had a lead in a market like India. The need was to build on this strength.
He also urged publishers to strengthen branded content offering, with the edge of credibility that magazines offer in comparison to content coming from brands-turned-publishers. “Focus on the ethical code, do not commoditise and create additional content offerings,” he said.
The Power of the Surround Cloud
Like in any profitable business, scale matters. Ashish Bagga, Group CEO, India Today Group is of the opinion that there is no place for any earlier way of doing business for magazines if scalability is a factor.
“Magazine is multiplatform. Gone are the days when we published, distributed and sold for advertising. With disruption in the industry, the model has changed and it is important for us to recognize that this is here to stay,” he said.
He quoted the India Today example to iterate an overhaul of the business model itself that led to integrated newsrooms, synergy in like functions and a reach that went beyond the legacy magazine space. “We realized early on that despite being the most dominant player in the space, our principal revenue stream of advertising and circulation in comparison to the costs was only churning a small amount of profit. We took a closer look at what we brought to the table,” Bagga said.
Consumers are consuming content all the time, and will not wait for a week to know what a publisher’s perspective is no matter how much the platform engaged the consumer or evoked trust. India Today Group examined what the brand delivers to its consumer in this backdrop.
It integrated the newsroom at the centre, rebranded the English news channel, created digital magazines, apps, websites, multiple add-ons to reach out to the fringe communities and created branded events as multiple platforms to reach the consumer. These also led to additional revenue streams from the likes of gate money and sponsorship and created exclusive content that was funneled and disseminated using cross platform synergies.
“We grew a 10-12 per cent of gross profit to 35-36 per cent,” he informed.
He further cited the example of reinventing AutoBild into Auto Today and creating a similar multi-channel model to make the brand profitable.
“What we also learned is you create a comprehensive content offer, leverage the communities that you have created, that trust you and consume that content, there is value that you can play back into the brand,” he stated.
His 10-point action plan included content is king, bring in adaptive tech and treat brand as God. Understand that broadcast and digital media gain at the cost of print. Mobile/ smartphones are accelerating content consumption. Social media is disrupting the publisher ecosystem. Video consumption is growing exponentially. Big data explosion and cloud computing are important. Programmatic advertising, experiential and line extensions are credible and strong revenue channels.