Magazines tide over COVID-19 crisis with innovative digital content & subscriptions

Brands will continue to advertise with magazines as businesses start to open up, say industry players  

e4m by Tasmayee Laha Roy
Updated: Jun 8, 2020 11:02 AM

While COVID-19 proved to be a tough ride for the print media, the magazine business has managed to stay afloat by switching to the digital format. Those who didn’t get their magazines from the vendors read it online. Even as India embraces Unlock 1.0, most magazines are likely to stick to the ‘digital only’ format for at least another three months.  

While this has been an extremely difficult period for the industry, those in the magazine business say innovation and creative packaging of digital content have been saviours. Moreover, annual, bi-annual or quarterly subscriptions ensured that the magazine circulation revenue for most brands remained intact. Although, some advertisers have backed out for now, industry experts say with most readers embracing the online versions marketers are likely to get comfortable with this medium too.

Amar Chitra Katha, for instance, has seen an unprecedented spike in the number of users on their apps. “We made our apps free for 30 days and the response has been overwhelming. From 1 lakh users we grew to 5.5 lakh,” said Preeti Vyas, President and COO, Amar Chitra Katha Pvt Ltd. Amar Chitra Katha also publishes Tinkle comics, National Geographic magazine and National Geographic Traveller India. 

Printing is expensive but ideas are not, says Vyas, while referring to how the brand innovated with its content offerings and moved from just written story formats to audio, visual and interactive ones. To keep the readers engaged the publishers also brought down the time gap between two issues.

Elaborating on this, Vyas said: “Printing and circulation comes with a lot of restrictions while online publishing doesn’t. So we didn’t want to keep a reader waiting for a fortnight. Instead of a 48-pager, once in two weeks, we came up with 20 pages every week. This kept the reader engaged and asking for more.”

Talking of innovations, Manorama Weekly, a family entertainment magazine published from Kerala, distributed vegetable seeds free with each copy during the past few Covid months. Varghese Chandy, VP-Marketing and Advertising Sales, Malayala Manorama, says this strategy saw the magazine record close to 30% increase in sales. “The seeds were provided by the state government with the intention to promote local produce and make people grow their own vegetables in their backyards or terrace. The magazine also had detailed articles on how to plant the seeds and take care of them. The response for the initiative was huge and kept our readers engaged. Since 95% of our magazines are delivered directly to customers we didn’t see readers staying away. In fact, there were more who came on board,” said Chandy.

Magazines have also shown a growth in readership, as per the IRS 2019 Q4 figures. Nearly half of the top 20 magazines in India have clocked in more readers. India Today (English), for instance, has shown consistent growth over four quarters.Interestingly, despite the nationwide lockdown India Today’s team ensured that the weekly copy of the magazine continues to reach its readers.The magazine deployed a mix of traditional and innovative ideas in their weekly publication.Over a 1000 outlets were added where the magazine was available in sanitized format and with least handling efforts; along with tie ups with FMCG distributors in 6 cities, 300 unconventional outlets were developed.Copies of the magazines were also in essential goods shops: super market, grocery Shops, and chemists across 9 cities.

The Sportstar, General Knowledge Today, Diamond Cricket Today, Ananda Vikatan, Champak (Hindi), Filmfare, Balarama and Kumudam are some of the magazines that have also registered steady growth in numbers over the quarters.  

But does that mean the businesses are not down? Certainly not. Magazines like most other businesses have not been Covid-proof when it comes to economies. Amar Chitra Katha has done only 10% of the business that they usually do. So what has kept them going? Vyas explained how. “Workshops put together by our editorial team got an overwhelming response. Those attending these had to pay anywhere between Rs 500 a session to Rs 1,499 for 5-day sessions. With 30-40 participants, these workshops have been running full house and are taking care of some expenses.”

Coming to advertisers, it is to be noted that a number of brands associated with Amar Chitra Katha, especially for their National Geographic titles, have for long been advertising on their digital products - be it automobiles, tourism boards, outdoor gears, phones, or luxury brands. Vyas expects the advertisers to be back in another three to six months.

Sharing the advertising scenario in Kerala, Chandy said the local readers have never stopped reading magazines. “Since we have the content, the reader and the reach in place along with the backing of being in a state that has best tackled the Covid-19 situation, brands should look at advertising here for better returns.” According to him marketers from educational offerings to automobiles, FMCG and electronics are the first few sectors that would take to advertising with magazines.

Experts say luxury brands too will continue to advertise with magazines as businesses start to open up. However, magazines will also have to dial up their innovations in product offerings to woo this section of advertisers.

On the post-Covid strategy in terms of readers and advertisers, Harjot Singh Narang, President at Dentsu One, says: “Post Covid, magazines will have to be almost like ultra-glamorous books to survive. They will have to be deep in their thinking and content. The visual content will have to appeal the audiences and focus on sharp areas, delivering a super specialty and far more in-depth access than any other media can give.”

Magazines will need to become an access point to only selected advertisers for a high value clientele, says Narang. “Ultra-premium, hi-end and luxury brands will continue to use select magazines and keep advertising there. Another segment, which would gain some niche value is B2B marketing and select trade magazines. Overall, this will really take root for a few players who can invest and stay on,” he explained.

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