As a magazine Publisher and Editor-in-Chief, as well as a magazine aficionado, it was great to be at the 36th FIPP and CPA organised Magazine Congress in Beijing. For someone like me who started reading newspapers and magazines at the age of seven encouraged by the regular quizzing based on the content of magazines from my Dad, for an apprentice Publisher and Editor-in-Chief like me, it was a place to soak it in, learn, and meet some of the great minds in the business.
With over 950 magazine professionals including owners, publishers, investors, editors and magazine professionals this was the largest congregation of the most influential minds in the magazine business; I could even say media business. The reason I say this is because some of the magazines that were part of the congress represented some of the marquee names in media and media brands. Fortune, Forbes, Time, Auto Build, Conde Nast and India Today, everybody was there. We had the young and the veterans and India was duly led by Aroon Purie of the India Today Group whose first love might still be India Today and its magazines, in spite of his multimedia empire. Pradeep Gupta whose company Cyber Media is among the only magazine companies listed on the bourses also made a very forceful presentation on the need for magazines to embrace the digital age.
Association of Indian Magazines (AIM) President and CEO of India Today Group Ashish Bagga was there too along with Mala Sekhri, Publishing Director of Lifestyle Group and Vivek Gaur who was a speaker at a breakout session on distribution of magazines. WWM also had Hello editor Ruchika Mehta along with Filmfare editor Jitesh Pillai. AIM’s Vice President and President of Outlook Group Maheshwari Peri was also there along with his old colleague Rajmohan Rao who is now President of Images Group. If you look at the attendees from India, the complete AIM executive committee was there except industry pioneer Delhi Press’s Paresh Nath and new kid on the block, Timeout’s Smiti Ruia.
I was also expecting new entrants in the Indian Magazine landscape at FIPP36 in Beijing, namely, Alex Kuruvilla and his Conde Nast travellers, but I guess they are working stylishly to stay in Vogue. Alex is a smart guy who knows the media business and all there to know, as at the end what matters is the content and brand. Alex has the brand and I am sure he and his team will create the content too.
I particularly loved the theme of the Magazine Congress, a very positive and a real one. Sample it if you don’t know it already: “Magazines enrich our world.” I believe in the theme and it could have not been more apt. Well done, Donald Kummerfeld and team, kudos for picking the perfect term for the cover as if the Magazine congress was the cover of a magazine. I must say the Magazine Congress was also amongst the most well organised conferences in recent times and served the much-needed dose of China and its cultural best. FIPP36 also gave me glimpses into why China is getting so much attention and FDI but that is the subject of an entirely different writing.
Magazines have enriched us and have been like a companion. You tend to carry a magazine when you already have a mobile and are on the move. Magazines have given us company in the loo, on a lonely business class seat on a flight, in a salon, at the doctor’s clinic before he calls you in. Magazines have literally enriched publishers and proprietors over the years.
I am very clear on what my take is from this Magazine Congress and it has reiterated what I had learnt while being at the forefront of this industry. And let me share the learnings so that magazines can also enrich your world, and I am not kidding.
I also have a lot of questions unanswered and let me raise them nonetheless. Maybe some of you could help me find answers to them.
Will magazines disappear or de-grow with growth of, say, TV, Internet and Retail media?
Answer / Learning:
As the BCG expert said: magazines that have unique and differentiated content and strong brands will continue to grow and thrive. I’d say I knew this and it supports my most favorite line at most conferences that content and brand are the two things that matter in the magazine or media business.
How do we deal with emergence of digital mediums?
Answer / Learning:
There is an old saying -- if you can’t fight them, join them. Embracing the digital medium is the way forward. The Internet is a pipe, what it needs is the gas of great content and the gloss of a marquee brand. Look at how numerous magazines both in the consumer and trade domain created complimentary and hugely profitable e zines. E zines are the way forward. Invest in e zines. Invest on user experience and navigation of the editorial content on the e zine. Look at as monkeymag.com, a FHM site.
Will there ever be a free magazine much like free newspapers?
Answer / Learning:
Not in the physical form. In fact, as e zines become ubiquitous, magazines will again be a novelty and strong brands with novelty can hopefully charge higher cover prices. Magazines are like companions and expert guides.
Why are editors of magazines getting younger? Is it good or bad?
Answer / Learning:
Those who have read last week’s Impact probably know the answer. It’s not a plug or a contest to promote last week’s content. Genuinely the need for younger editors is a necessity thrust on the stage by paucity of good talent and also by the lack of understanding of younger audiences by older editors. We need mature but youthful content appealing to the youth of this country and young editors seem to be more up to it. It’s welcome.
There was an old saying: “You are what you eat for breakfast.” I have always taken it seriously. No, I am kidding. Maybe for magazines in the next century, we should modify it to “You are what magazine you read.”
At this point I am reminded of the types who always seem to carry magazines with them in the car, in the lift, for a meeting -- even when they are in a conversation with you. They somehow believe that the intellect of the magazine rubs off on them. Since I could not carry a magazine with me -- as though if I did, I would have been accused of having a bias towards magazines -- let me say that as a media industry watcher, I need to be equidistant from everyone. I can’t let myself sleep with magazines. Though I must confess I do it most times.
On a serious note, magazines have again and again demonstrated the affinity and the level of involvement readers have with them and marketers across the world have recognized the same and leveraged it to build brands.
I also advocate electronic magazines or e zines as I genuinely believe marketers want to reach out to digital natives and we have 50 million plus on the Internet and 130 million on the mobile.
From an environment standpoint maybe we should take the paper away from the magazine. Will the zing in the magazine go away? I certainly believe it won’t.
Till that happens magazines are truly ensconced in our homes and everywhere we go as companions. With Zinio even on our mobile phones. Zinio.com and Qiosk.com are changing the way we consume magazine content and interact with magazines.
With a lot more questions in mind, I am already looking forward to the Indian Magazine Congress 2007 to be organized by AIM. I am AIMing high with magazines and I know I am going to be enriched by them. Will you be?
(The writer was recently invited to the 36th bi-annual magazine industry event in Beijing, China, organized by FIPP in collaboration with CPA. The writer is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of exchange4media Group and also an Executive Committee member of the Association of Indian Magazines.)
----It's excerpted from impact----