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DD Purkayastha

Managing Director & CEO | 11 Mar 2011

We want to be more local. I think that in times to come, our strategy will be not to expand into newer markets, but rather to consolidate our position in the existing market. We don’t want to be insignificant players in many markets. We want to go deeper into the markets we are already present in.

DD Purkayastha is the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of ABP Pvt Ltd, overseeing the strategy and operations of the entire ABP portfolio. He is also the Chairman of INFOCOM, the country’s largest ICT exposition.

He is a qualified Cost and Management Accountant and has more than 35 years of experience in the industry, of which 31 years have been with ABP Pvt Ltd. He is also one of the leading IT professionals of the country.

Purkayastha is also Vice Chairman of the Central Advisory Council of IFRA, the apex research body of newspapers across the world and Chairman of UNI, one of the leading news agencies of India. He has played a pioneering role in the ABP Group since he took charge as CEO in 2007.

When the ABP Group started its first publication in 1922, Anandabazar Patrika came out as an evening daily. A four-page newspaper that sold at two paisa, it had a first-day circulation of about 1,000 copies. Its popularity soon soared. This popularity has kept growing for over eight decades. Today, it has evolved into a media house that has 11 premier publications, three 24x7 news channels, two book publishing businesses as well as mobile and Internet properties. ABP’s portfolio, thus, spans the range from print and publishing to television, and the Internet. With it all, ABP touches the lives of millions of readers and viewers.

Print still forms the heart of the ABP business. In addition to Anandabazar Patrika and The Telegraph, the Group’s portfolio has Businessworld and Bengali magazines, including Sananda and Desh. Anandabazar Patrika remains the flagship brand of the house even today. Fortune India, launched on September 24, 2010, is the recent addition to the many publications that the Group publishes.

In conversation with Akash Raha, Purkayastha speaks at length about ABP Group’s growth path, the publications, leveraging digital, problem with readership surveys and more…

Q. Since donning the role of CEO of ABP Group in August 2007, what, according to you, have been the key changes in the group?

Since then, we have seen The Telegraph launch its editions in Bihar and Orissa. This completes The Telegraph dominance in every state in eastern India. In 2010, we also saw the launch of ‘Fortune India’ magazine, which has done very well in the market since its launch. We have also worked towards creating a state-of-the-art press, which will certainly be ranked as one of the best in Asia. Apart from that, the ABP Group is extremely customer focused. We have taken several measures to connect with the customer and have offered them a bouquet solution for their media requirements. Over the years, we have also worked towards strengthening our events and activation. We do a lot of BTL spends and that helps us connect better with the customers.

Q. ABP Group has several periodicals such as Businessworld, Fortune India, Desh, Sananda, Anandamela, Anandalok, Unish Kuri, Career, etc. It is being said that print, especially periodicals, are nearing death. IRS figures also show a general trend of decline for most periodicals. What is your opinion on this?

I don’t think periodicals are nearing death. Those periodicals that have not been able to change with time might cease to exist, but not all. The mantra to success and being relevant to the readers, I feel, is three-fold. Firstly, it’s important to be focused. Don’t try to give everything to everyone. Being focused, even niche, if necessary, and catering to a specific TG is what one should do. And change with the changing needs. If required, work out brand/ line extensions to cater to specific interest segments without diluting the main brand. Secondly, it is important to create a brand and have a 360 degree approach, where ‘print versions’ will be just an expression of the brand.

There could be events, workshops, club activities. All the expressions should live up to the same brand promise. In this model, each expression helps and promotes the other and eventually helps not only increase circulation of the copies, but also open up multiple revenue streams. Lastly, one should promote interactivity. There should be a two-way traffic… readers should be provided with a platform to interact and even to provide content for the magazine.

Coming to ABP magazines, they are doing well despite multiple price hikes over the last few years. The secret is to remain relevant, be focused, stick to the brand promise and continue to cater to the consumer need.

Q. How is the newest property in ABP’s stable – Fortune India – doing? Do you think its competitor, Forbes India, has an advantage over it because it entered the market prior to Fortune?

Fortune India is off to an excellent start in the country. The response has been fantastic both in terms of readership and advertising. We’ve been able to create a premium business publication that has become essential reading for business leaders operating across borders. In just three months – October to December 2010 – Fortune India garnered an ad volume of over 60 pages per issue and commands a higher market share than Forbes, despite being a monthly. In terms of quality of advertising, it leads the business magazine domain for premium product advertising.

Q. The Telegraph has been doing extremely well in West Bengal. It has recently launched editions in Upper Assam, Orissa and Patna. However, the Orissa launch was the first in a decade, in terms of foraying into newer market. There is a general feeling that The Telegraph has potential to do much better, but has not lived up to its potential. Your comments…

The Telegraph is doing well not only in West Bengal but also in key geographies of the East, such as North East and Jharkhand. Launched on July 7, 1982, The Telegraph has never looked back. Within a short time, we became the undisputed number one English newspaper in the East with a dominant presence in key markets of the region like Bengal, all North-Eastern states and Jharkhand. Our latest foray was into Orissa.

We are now the fourth largest newspaper in the country and by far the number one English newspaper in the East, growing steadily year on year. The Telegraph has always pursued a focused expansion strategy in the East. We have always believed in consolidating our gains in the markets we have entered before exploring new ones.

Q. Do you think there is a measurement problem that the print industry faces? Is enough being done to address it?

Yes, the IRS has been showing a decline in the magazine market. ABP magazines, though, have registered growth. We all know that magazines are consumed differently from dailies; they have a longer shelf life and unlike dailies, magazines are mostly impulse purchases, but the methodologies in the existing readership surveys are essentially geared towards newspapers. That is precisely why the idea of a separate ‘engagement study’ for magazines came up in the Indian Magazine Congress 2010. We have often seen that while ABC registered a growth in certain publications, the readership surveys showed a decline. Magazines often target segmented niche audience (special interest segment), and if sufficient sample is not covered, the figures throw up wrong pictures.

Personally, I feel that ABC is a robust indicator of growth/ decline and gives a better guide to measure ‘reach’ than the readership surveys in their current form. The readership survey, on the other hand, represents behaviour of consumers and gives perspective about the profile of readers and the quality of reading (like time spent, frequency of reading, etc.).

Q. Do you think the IRS-NRS merger would make any difference?

Despite problems, readership surveys continue to be important because most advertising decisions and rates depend on the survey data. As a first reaction, I would say that when there are two competing brands in any segment, each trying to deliver better than the other and the customers get a better product each time. However, in real life, we have seen that the diverse results of these two studies only result in a battle, which media agencies have with publishers to bargain for the best deal. Merger of IRS and NRS is, therefore, welcome, since this will lead to a single index. And if sample sizes are increased, the study will be more robust and beneficial. But the merger per se will not help the magazine industry unless the methodology and sampling for magazines are made different from the dailies.

Generally speaking about the merger, I feel that certain changes should be brought about to make the study more meaningful. The questionnaire should be made crisper and shorter. Since the existing questionnaire is 44 pages long, it is bound to create fatigue and we cannot be sure that the respondents (particularly the one belonging to upper SECs) are devoting enough time themselves to fill the same. The questionnaire should include more lifestyle attributes and psychographic mapping.

Q. What is your opinion of Digital? Do you consider it to be the next big thing? Big enough to engulf other forms of media, especially print? What are some of the digital initiatives that ABP Group has taken?

Digital as a medium is a convergence of the written word and the audio-visual world. So, to that extent, it represents a combination of mobility, communication, information and entertainment. With the rising penetration of mobile phones and high speed Internet access in India and the world, this medium is bound to draw eyeball and acceptance. But there is a problem with the digital medium. There is far too much inventory available to the user without any yardstick of credibility. Digital is definitely the future with technology advancing at a rapid pace and making the user interface more speedy, more convenient, more mobile, more accessible and cheaper.

Whether it will engulf the other forms of media will depend on how digital as a medium evolves and what the stakeholders of other media do. If you were to look at print, it is news, views, analysis and infotainment, which is the bulk of the content. The need for this will always remain. But whether it will be delivered via a printed newspaper or a digitised environment is a matter of business economics.

In ABP, we want to target the Bengali Diaspora around the world and reach them with content that they cherish. We want to build a digital community in this space. We will deliver news, views, stories, movies, play/ theatre, books, music, animation, audio-drama, etc., through all forms of digital vehicles like the Internet, mobile, tablets, IPTV, VOD to the content-hungry Bengalis around the world.

Q. From publishing to print to Bengali GECs to movie download portals… ABP Group has done it all. So, where do you go from here?

We have a lot to do in the years to come. We need to be the undisputed leader for the complete media bouquet in the East. We shall strengthen our presence nationally through television and business publications.

Q. On a broader note, what are the new emerging trends in print media?

We want to be more local. I think that in times to come, our strategy will be not to expand into newer markets, but rather to consolidate our position in the existing market. We don’t want to be insignificant players in many markets. We want to go deeper into the markets we are already present in.

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