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Quick five with India Today Group’s Mala Sekhri

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Quick five with India Today Group’s Mala Sekhri

With a magazine bouquet that includes titles such as ‘Cosmopolitan’, ‘India Today Travel Plus’, ‘Good Housekeeping’, ‘Design Today’, ‘Prevention’, ‘Harper’s Bazaar’ and ‘Women’s Health’, the lifestyle and music division of India Today Group has special interest magazines catering to varied segments.

As Chief Operating Officer of the Lifestyle and Music Division, Mala Sekhri has seen the growth of the niche and lifestyle genre to claim a sizeable chunk of the print media market today. In conversation with exchange4media, Sekhri talks about the niche and lifestyle magazine space in India, readership methodology, digital editions and more…

The lifestyle magazine space has seen quite a few new entrants in the recent past. How is India Today Group creating relevance for its publication bouquet in the face of growing competition?
Whenever magazines such as ‘Architectural Digest’, ‘Vogue’, ‘Harper’s Bazaar’ and ‘Men’s Health’ come into the market, people ask how you are going to deal with it. These magazines co-exist in every corner of the world. In markets such as the US and the UK, there are hundreds of magazines happily co-existing.

Basically, it is the reader’s choice – there are readers who read ‘Bazaar’ or ‘Vogue’ and some who read both and other magazines too. In the end, each magazine has differentiated its own DNA and its own proposition to the readers. For example, the Cosmo girl, wherever she is in the world, will be a Cosmo girl; her mindset is cosmopolitan, so she picks up ‘Cosmopolitan’. A magazine like ‘Women’s Health’ will be picked by fitness conscious women. All magazines come with their own prepositions and happily exist.

What are the key trends that you see in the magazine genre in the next few years? Do you see niche publications overtaking general interest magazines?
I think the landscape of lifestyle is changing – earlier people lived in large houses, now they live in apartments; malls have evolved in place of general stores. Many brands that we had heard of but were not available here earlier, we can now buy them.

What has happened is that different interest areas and segments have developed over the years. Magazines are nothing but a focus group of readers that you cater to with a particular type of content, and once your focus group develops, you find a magazine cater to it. This has happened successfully in other countries such as Australia and the US, where one can find magazines on the weirdest of subjects.

Overall, magazine readership has been on a decline in the last few IRS quarters. How can magazine publishers stem this slide? What steps is India Today Group taking to boost readership and circulation?
I think we have talked about this very often. Readership studies should change their focus; I don’t think niche magazines are being catered to the way they should be catered to. Talks are already in progress to change the methodology of how to measure readership of niche magazines, so I don’t believe that readership is falling, because our circulation is growing.

You can’t have two different scenarios where you find one readership survey saying that readership of so and so magazine has fallen by 6 per cent, but the circulation has grown by 10 per cent. There is talk in the industry on how to change the methodology of research to cater to niche magazine, which will help us arrive at some logical conclusion. Right now I don’t think this is the true picture.

Globally, quite a few publications are taking to digital-only editions. Do you see a similar trend emerging in India? How much of an opportunity and threat is the digital medium to print publications?
I think there is space for both; I read a lot digitally, but I also read print. Let’s take the example of presentation, if someone will give it in a pen drive, then one has to do extra work of putting it in a computer and then go through it. But when it comes in a printout format, it’s easier to go through it.

I think that speaks volumes of how much the printed word is still relevant and important in people’s lives, but as far as lifestyle media is concerned, I think digital and print have to work hand in hand. There is a lot that one can get out of digital, but may not get out of print and vice versa.

What can we expect from the India Today Group in 2013? What will be your key focus areas in the coming year? Please share your regional plans and focus.
The key focus areas are actually to consolidate and strengthen our brands, to see how we can develop the ecosystem around these brands. Today, we have the brand Cosmopolitan and the website Cosmo – how do we marry both and take it to other medium? The focus is to look at surrounding the brand with many a things and creating more touch-points where you interact in real-time with your readers and advertisers as there are always two sets of consumers.

I don’t have any comments on the Hindi market yet, but you will see many more titles coming out of the India Today Group.

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