While issues like cover price, talent, content, advent of digital media have been discussed at great length by magazine owners and editors, the issue of distribution often remains untouched. Day 2 of the sixth Indian Magazine Congress saw an entire session devoted to this aspect of magazine industry, titled ‘New reading habits, new distribution challenges’.
The panellists included DVS Rama Rao, Chief General Manager, Sales & Operations, Media Mart; Niraj Rawlley, Vice-President, Circulation, Outlook Group; and Rajagopalan Nair M, Chief General Manager, Circulation, The Week. Ashish Goel, COO and CFO, ACK Media, moderated the session.
Ashish Goel started off by sharing with the audience what he believed were the two themes that were driving change in the distribution landscape. According to him, these were, “The quality of retail points, which include growth of modern retail, higher quality kiosks and better stocking at all point of sales. The other is information management, which currently is the biggest roadblock for growth in the magazine industry”. He further said the magazines faced 15-20 per cent loss in sales due to stock outs, while 35-40 per cent stocks losses were due to returns. He also pointed out the absolute inability to plan content/ promotions/ stocks.
DVS Rama Rao began his presentation by stating that distribution was not given too much importance, “Is it not important for publishers to see how distribution works or is it that they are not interested?” he asked, and stressed, “The distribution network is not in a good shape in India. It should be looked at like an ad-sales department and given more importance.”
He made an important point when he said that many a times the publishers found that they could not find their publications in stores. “The truth is that there is clutter and so efforts must be made to make individual magazines stand out,” he added and concluded by urging the publishers that an industry initiative was required for better distribution.
While the others spoke about various issues that distribution faced, Rajagopalan Nair M mainly spoke about the opportunities of distribution. Giving a few of his suggestions, he said, “Petrol pumps can be more effectively used. Also, increasing supply of publications through line hawkers will reduce the fluctuation in sales of publications.” He further suggested that railway stations could be used to place magazine vending machines and also mooted the sale of publications on long distance trains. Nair suggested that the Association of Indian Magazines took the initiative and talk to the Railways in this regard.
Niraj Rawlley spoke about both opportunities and challenges that existed in the distribution system. According to him, shrinking footprint, mainly in the metros, lack of information from the unorganised channels, clutter of magazines in a small space affecting visibility, and cost of servicing chain stores/ travel locations were some of the main challenges. As for the opportunities, he said, “Emerging organised channels, optimisation of our own resources for better output, information management and specially created kiosks (with the government) are some of the opportunities that we look forward to.”
The panel unanimously urged the publishers to take the distribution part of the magazine business more seriously, which would help improve the way magazines were received.