We are always trying to anticipate the next big change: Vineet Jain

The MD of Times Group is IMPACT Person of the Year, 2013 for his industry-shaping initiatives, driving profitability, and setting a benchmark with young and vibrant media products

e4m by Srabana Lahiri
Published: Dec 9, 2013 10:19 AM  | 18 min read
We are always trying to anticipate the next big change: Vineet Jain

Vineet Jain, Managing Director of the Times Group is smiling and affable in his Mumbai office as he discusses the “175-year-young” Times of India and its relevance to Gen Y with us before this interview begins. Jain, earlier Delhi-based, has been spending most of his time in Mumbai for the last six months because “all the action is here”. Talk of Bollywood and lifestyle as the USP for a set of ‘young’ media products, and driving the business aggressively into new media — internet, radio and television – it does help to be in Mumbai, and therefore, Jain is here.

The 47-year-old Jain is the face of India’s largest media conglomerate, but is quick to point out that it is his brother Samir Jain, who has drawn the shape and strategy for the empire. Besides managing the Group’s diverse business interests in areas as far apart as vocational education and real estate, the younger Jain’s achievement has been to create compelling media vehicles that offer an excellent environment for advertisers.
Jain is sharp and precise as he talks of creating disruption in the market, using technology to advantage (such as the Alive app with the flagship TOI newspaper) and does not avoid questions about the business that would perhaps qualify as ‘uncomfortable’. Instead, he gives us extremely detailed answers. He also talks of anticipating change in the industry and being future-ready, only refusing to predict what the Times of India will look like ten years later!

Here are excerpts from the conversation:

The Times of India has just turned 175, yet it keeps pace with today’s generation. As key strategist and content architect of the Times Group, what according to you is fundamental to giving the newspaper its young and vibrant image?
I keep telling my colleagues, “Think of the Times as 175 years young, not 175 years old”. We hate status quo. We are always trying to anticipate the next big change. India is a young nation where 52 per cent of the population is 25 years or younger. We were the first to cater to this group, with entertainment and lifestyle supplements such as The Bombay Times, Delhi Times, Bangalore Times, etc. The supplements are an entry point to many of our young readers before they graduate to reading the main newspaper...We don’t like to moralise; we don’t like to talk down. We are proud of our legacy, but we are not stuck in the past. It’s all about the future. It’s about helping the youth realise their full potential. As long as we keep doing that, we will remain a young and vibrant newspaper.

Talking to Ken Auletta of The New Yorker, you have said, “We are not in the newspaper business, we are in the advertising business... If you are editorially minded, you will make all the wrong decisions.” Do you think advertising carries the Times Group’s media products or content?
I wish to reiterate that we are in the advertising business and not in the business of selling news – and I’ll explain why. If we were in the business of selling news, then the cover price we charge readers should have made us profitable. Fact is, subscription price does not come even close to covering the cost of newsprint. As much as 90 per cent of our revenues comes from advertising; effectively, therefore, our advertisers are cross-subsidising our readers. Which is why, I say advertising is at the core of our business model.

Sustaining growth and remaining profitable has a lot to do with how one understands and defines one’s business. Peter Drucker once asked a bottling plant manager what business they were in and he said, “bottling”. Drucker corrected him by saying “you are in the packaging business”. If a soft drinks manufacturer were to define the business as just “soft drinks”, it would never launch juices, water or snacks. Correctly defining your business helps you remain profitable, grow, diversify and make the right strategic decisions. If I had defined my business as selling news or newspapers I would not have aggressively launched lifestyle and entertainment supplements like Bombay Times and Delhi Times; nor would I have expanded into entertainment channels such as Zoom, Romedy Now and Movies Now, or launched Radio Mirchi, or got into out-of-home, or diversified into so many internet verticals. I don’t blame journalists who criticised my statement for misunderstanding this concept because they are not trained in the language of marketing. Lack of clarity and a narrow definition of “selling news” have led to the closure of newspapers in many countries. The Times Group’s understanding of the business, on the other hand, has allowed it to expand the market for newspapers and reach new, relevant audiences; all other newspaper groups have simply imitated us and we are happy that they too have grown as a result.

We have great editors and we have huge respect for them. However, an editorial-driven CEO will tend to take wrong decisions. He will focus only on increasing the number of pages and news content, not focus on advertising. He will price the newspaper too high for the reader, will feel guilty about promoting his brand aggressively and not cut cost aggressively in terms of pages when the economy takes a downturn or the cost of newsprint skyrockets. Therefore, a newspaper CEO has to be balanced and marketing-driven, and manage all the four Ps of marketing -- Product, Price, Place and Promotion.

If the Times of India were to reinvent itself ten years from now, what would be its shape, size and USP?
Ten years is too long a time frame in the ever-changing media landscape to make predictions. Disruptions and technology are changing the way we consume media and indeed the way we live. Today’s business models may no longer work that well tomorrow. Ten years ago, the Times Group was not present in FM radio/TV/ OOH. As a Group, we evolve constantly. We have our finger on the pulse of tomorrow. Our focus has and will always be the customer.

The focus of our creative agencies is television. Do you see this affecting advertising in the print medium?
TV has got incredibly fragmented over the years. And the remote in the viewer’s hands has added to its woes. Smart viewers use devices not only to record programmes, but to also skip ads. The viewer hasn’t spared anyone, not even the leading channels. On the other hand, the newspaper, especially a leading brand such as the TOI, has retained the reader’s attention and continues to engage. The fragmentation in the print medium is negligible.

With consumption of content increasingly on mobile and other screens now, do you think the printed newspaper will be redundant in future? 
News consumption will always continue to rise. With growing literacy, the need to consume news will also grow exponentially. With time, the way news is consumed will change. We aim to provide news in whichever way a consumer chooses to have it – on TV, computers, tablets or mobile.

You have successfully led the Times of India to the language newspaper space. With this generation being educated mostly in English, will there be enough readers for the vernacular medium newspaper in future? 
It’s true that English is aspirational, and with increasing disposable incomes and evolving lifestyles, particularly in small towns, it will attract newer, affluent consumers. But vernacular is important, especially in these cities and towns; it often meets an intermediate need in the literacy chain, before the transition to English. We want to be present across the value chain, so long as it makes sound business sense.

We have heard of an IPO from the Times Group for some time now. Is it happening anytime soon?
I keep hearing these rumours too! Truth is, we constantly explore and review all options.
The Times Group is going strong with innovative print, television, radio and new media initiatives. Any plans to venture into the B2B segment?
One of our strengths as a group is that we understand consumers. We will hence continue to focus on B2C. However, if opportunities come our way, we are open to exploring these. We always leverage our brand strengths and organisational capabilities.

What are your views on the 10+2 ad cap imbroglio in the television industry? What would be the right way to move forward?
We are opposed to it.  As it is, the industry is struggling to make money. Why try and strangulate it further? Let the audience decide. If a channel shows 20 minutes of advertising in an hour, and if viewers don’t like it, they have the freedom to switch to a competing channel at the press of a remote button – at no extra cost. There are hundreds of channels to choose from, no one’s forcing a viewer to stick with any one.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s proposal will hurt niche channels, particularly news channels. They should not kill the basic financial model of these channels which depend on cheap advertising. In addition, the concept of clock hour is redundant in case of news channels where news is breaking round the clock. The concept of ads per hour was supposed to be an average per day and that is why the government never acted on it for many years. Now suddenly, without fully understanding the industry dynamics and profitability, TRAI is misinterpreting the rule book. I think the main role of a regulator should be to promote the industry through reasonable policies. It should enable and not undermine fair competition.

There is a whole debate about Arnab Goswami being a brand by himself, overpowering Times Now. Is that good or bad for the channel?
Times Now has dominant leadership now for over six years. Arnab Goswami has done an incredible job for Times Now, which has established itself as the ‘go-to-TV-channel’ for breaking news, big news and significant views. He is a courageous journalist and respected by viewers of Times Now. Further, the Times brand is what gives viewers the trust and belief in what he and his able team deliver 24X7.

Does it worry you that while Times Now, ET Now and Zoom are popular, the Times Group’s television business is yet to gain scale? Have you ever thought about a GEC or a Hindi or regional language channel to build scale for the business? 
The GEC market is overheated. Yes, we are open to evaluating opportunities in GEC and regional if it makes business sense.

What will be the focus for your radio operations now that Phase III auctions are imminent?
The radio business is a successful one for the Times Group.  We will participate in Phase III, to grow the industry and the brand Radio Mirchi.

Radio is the only free-to-air electronic medium. Hence, the government should ensure that the infirmities of Phase I and Phase II should be avoided while designing the Phase III auctions. One fails to understand the rationale of the government insisting on high reserve fees for FM Radio spectrum, that too in the face of repeated market failures in the context of reserve fees in the telecom sector.

While competitors have been quick to emulate your business strategies, some ventures such as Medianet and Brand Capital have lent themselves to controversy, as also reports of Times executives driving tough bargains with advertisers to prevent them from advertising with rivals. What is your view of paid news and media ethics, as well as maintaining the proverbial wall between editorial and sales?
Brand Capital helps entrepreneurs and small businesses that don’t have enough cash flows to spend on advertising compete with big companies. It helps businesses grow, India grow and increases competition in the industry. It is almost like a venture capital supporting small businesses with great ideas and products. It helps David take on Goliath. Brand Capital is, simplistically speaking, ad barter for equity. It has nothing to do with editorial – just as normal cash advertisers have nothing to do with editorial. In fact, Brand Capital clients complain that they get more favourable coverage in other newspapers than in ours!  We have lost hundreds of crore of rupees in advertising from clients because we have resisted their attempts to influence our editorial policy. These are big corporate houses and government departments and I won’t name them. These very organisations fund other newspapers in return for favourable coverage.

The Chinese wall between advertising and editorial is strongest in our group and we are proud of it. Because the Times is highly profitable and advertising-driven, we don’t allow any advertiser to influence our edit coverage. On the other hand, smaller newspapers which are financially vulnerable tend to buckle under pressure from such large advertisers.

As for Medianet, advertorials have been an established practice among the most respected newspapers, magazines and TV channels globally. We only emulated global best practices and made it better -- Medianet is the purest form of advertorial. In television, it is called advertiser funded programming (AFP) which is the life-blood of the best channels in India and abroad. In TV serials and movies, it is called product placements. Medianet is actually the most honest form of advertorial because we have created separate special supplements of entertainment and lifestyle for it, unlike other media who have mixed it in the main product seamlessly. In fact, advertorials/Medianet strengthen the Chinese wall between advertising and editorial and make it transparent instead of the advertising department putting pressure on editorial to write puff pieces on clients or clients using PR agencies to plant stories through journalists. We are truly proud of our ethical practices and can claim that they are among the best in the world.

With regard to paid news, let’s not paint the entire media with the same brush. Paid news is predominantly news articles sponsored by political parties. The politicians need to clean up their act before they blame the media. If political news was promoted as an advertisement or had the disclaimer of an advertorial, it would have been as per established global practice. In reality, the government must realise that Doordarshan can be deemed as paid news. Also, there are many media owners/editors who are either affiliated or belong to certain political parties. Will the government cancel their licence? The ownership of media by political parties is a bigger problem than beating up two or three newspapers over some lapses of the past, which they have corrected.

Expansion, innovation and differentiation have been your forte... What’s next on your agenda for the Times Group? What new frontiers are you looking at?
There are several opportunities yet to be tapped by us within media and entertainment, and our first priority would be to focus on these. But given our presence in media, we have started looking at sectors such as vocational education, for example our initiative TimesPro. On the internet side, we are looking at acquisitions instead of starting ground up.

What are the challenges you see in the functioning of the Times Group?
While it may appear that our Group is focused on a single sector – media – we actually comprise some very different businesses, each of which need very different skill-sets. We’ve hence structured ourselves as a set of stand-alone, specialist organisations, each focused on its own line of business. At the same time, with increasing convergence in technology as well as media consumption, we will progressively need to unlock synergies between the different parts of the organisation. A key challenge for our Group will be to balance these two conflicting forces: the need for specialisation and the need for synergy.

Do you think that the current political and media ecosystem favour the growth of a free and fair media?
No, it does not. For instance, the proposed ad cap on TV channels, new rules on appointment of directors in broadcast companies, the continuing bar against the private sector entering news FM, periodic efforts to intimidate social media, controlling and influencing the salary structure of journalists through the wage board, new rules and acts being rewritten to punish and control media, etc. indicate directly or indirectly, that there seem to be attempts to restrict freedom of speech and freedom of expression. Certainly, the media has a duty to be responsible. But a few black sheep shouldn’t be used as an excuse to clamp down on everyone.
The foundation of any democracy relies heavily on an independent and pluralistic media. The government’s role should be limited to encouraging self regulation by the industry. Governments, by nature, always find it a challenge to resolve issues satisfactorily, and hence have a desire to control the media which candidly covers performance (or non-performance!) of the government of the day.

If we ask you to introspect and describe yourself, what would your answer be?
I have a natural flair to aggressively listen to several points of view. I do not let my ego come in the way of accepting/rejecting ideas or opportunities. Gut feeling and instinct form an integral part of my persona.

What are some of the things that you wish you could have achieved in life and in your role as MD of the Times Group?
I was in my twenties when I thought of venturing into cable networks, DTH and GEC. I even drew up plans. But I suppressed my gut feeling and instinct and did not pursue those ideas as aggressively as I should have – perhaps I was too young.

Do you believe in maintaining a work-life balance?
For me, work is my life. I find my work, and the sheer variety and diversity of what I do exciting, engaging and fun.

Which is your favourite brand among the offerings of the Times Group? Which of them would you single out as having the most potential?
Times is the Master Brand. Owing to its overwhelming success, we have effortlessly leveraged this Master Brand – Times – across platforms such as Times Now, Times Pro, Navbharat Times, Economic Times, etc.

How do you function in a crisis? What is your crisis management mantra?
Temperamentally, I am cool and do not lose my composure. I tend to view crises as an opportunity to evaluate my leadership teams. 

What are some of the things you look forward to personally at this point?
I wish I could travel more. I have never taken more than 10 days off in any year over the last 15 years.

One learns from life. Would there be any incident in your life that has made you suffer a temporary setback, but proved to be of immense value and learning in the long run?
I am fortunate that I have not suffered any setbacks.

On being voted IMPACT Person of the Year, 2013
While I am delighted at being voted the IMPACT Person of the Year, I accept this on behalf of my brother Samir Jain, Vice Chairman, and on behalf of the Times Family.

The centre of our universe has and will always be our readers, listeners and viewers. We have no political masters; nor do we have any hidden agenda. If we take anybody’s side, it is that of our readers, listeners and viewers.

Editorial views on all our platforms are aimed at leading opinion and driving change. This has become a habit in our Group. We can, with some modesty, claim that governments, legislatures and even courts have time and again taken cognizance of our views and acted on them. We do not seek power or influence, but we do want to use all our media platforms to do good.

“At 23, I internalised my brother’s message”
When I was fresh out of college, all of 23 years old, at a formal meeting with senior managers of the Times Group, I heard my brother Samir Jain, Vice Chairman of the Group, talk about “What is the business we are in?” What I vividly recall is his passionate and painstaking effort at explaining that we are in the business of advertising and not in the business of selling newspapers. In retrospect, I feel I had internalised this message to such an extent that it provided the impetus for me to explore and diversify into all potential advertising-driven media businesses like radio, tv, internet and outdoor.

I admire my brother deeply for his brilliance and the manner in which he’s transformed the Group from the time he took over 35 years ago. If print media in India is doing well, unlike in most parts of the world, it’s because of the innovations he introduced. Almost every media house and publisher said his “experiments” wouldn’t work, but eventually they all copied him. His vision and original thinking reshaped Indian newspapers, and gave it a new growth trajectory. As I grew into the business, he gave me more and more space, freedom and support for new ventures. Above all, he has been a loving and supportive elder brother.

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What really is a magazine?

Guest Column: Anant Nath, Executive Publisher at Delhi Press, shares what remains so unique about the magazine form in the digital age

By Anant Nath | Mar 15, 2023 6:00 PM   |   6 min read

anant nath

Magazine publishing is in an existential crisis!

At least that’s what the world would have us publishers believe.

After all, we are now operating in a world where magazines are trying to find relevance between content produced by hordes of influencers and subject matter experts for the digital world, what used to be the exclusive domain of magazines, whose editors were supposed to be the ultimate arbiters of tastes and opinion in their field of interest.

That’s no longer the case for sure.

In the words of David Abrahamson, professor emeritus of journalism at Northwestern University’s Medill school of journalism, “the volatility of the technological environment presents a huge challenge for both the producer and consumer because it distorts, even violates, the implicit magazine-reader social contract.”

The erstwhile reader is now a creator. So what happens to the magazine now?

And equally important, when almost all magazines are laying emphasis on expanding their digital avatar, co-existing with the those countless other digital creators, what really is a magazine anymore?

Wasn’t a magazine supposed to be simply a bound volume of pages, with articles, stories, photographs and illustrations, produced and delivered with a certain degree of periodicity?

Now in the digital age, what remains so unique about the magazine form?

While these may seem deeply ominous and existential questions, the answer to them is fairly obvious and straightforward.

For magazine is not something to be perceived in a strictly physical sense, or for that matter simply on the basis of its expert content. That would be at best a superficial understanding of the medium.

A magazine is much more than that.

Victor Navasky, long-time editor of the Nation and the much revered Professor at Columbia Journalism School, once wrote that magazines are “an art form, not just a delivery method.”

For someone who has been raised and lived in the world of magazines, this sounds like a truism. Magazines are an ‘art form’ that inform, inspire, and enriches their readers lives, they are a produced by people who readers trust, they are often a manifestation of a certain passion- of creators and readers alike, they are designed for an experience, and often consumed, shared and talked about between readers, who all think of themselves as linked together through some subliminal bond.

In the words of media scholars Tim Holmes and Jane Bentley, “one important aspect of magazines can be seen - they provide a locus around which communities can be constructed”.

Holmes, along with another scholar Liz Nice, in their book Magazine Journalism (2012), separate the physical form of magazine from its cultural purpose.

They explain that magazines, by their intrinsic nature: 

  1. always target a precisely defined group of readers;
  2. base their content on the expressed and perceived needs, desires, hopes and fears of that defined group;
  3. develop a bond of trust with their readerships;
  4. foster community-like interactions between themselves and their readers, and among readers;
  5. respond quickly and flexibly to changes in readership and changes in the wider society as a whole.

Even the slightest bit of reflection on our own experiences with our favourite magazines, will prove all the above points axiomatic. And more so in case of specialist magazines, with a well defined niche. Readers of magazines often develop a sense of attachment to brands when they perceive them as reinforcing their identity. And attachment to a magazine brand often leads to “imagined communities”, whereby readers think of themselves as belonging to a collective group of readers, all of whom share a similar passion and interest.

The great theorist of nationalism, Benedict Anderson articulated the concept of “nation as an imagined community”, a socially constructed entity, created collectively by those individuals who perceive themselves to be part of a particular group. Although Anderson used the concept to explain nationalism, it also can be applied to the communities that develop around magazines, not least because the readers of any given magazine are unlikely to know personally or encounter physically the majority of their fellow readers.

From a few thousands to tens of millions, from microscopically niche to expansively broad based audiences, magazines build and engage with thousands of communities and social groups. This sensitivity to attitudes and interests results in greater trust and credibility and respect for magazines. 

So what does this mean for the future of magazines?

In the digital age, marred by information overload and cluttered digital spaces, the need for highly engaged and involved communities is becoming ever more important, as users feel the urge to break away from the clutter of social media lead content deluge, and find solace and comfort in spaces that align with their interests and with like-minded peers.

Magazine brands are uniquely poised to nurture such engaged communities:

If anything, the digital world lends even more deeply towards magazines’ ability to nurture deeply engaged communities:

  • Digital space can allow magazines brands greater leverage to create content that encourages sharing within these ‘imagined communities’.
  • The magazine space in the digital world, can be the one that cuts through the clutter, and allow readers that comfort of being amongst like-minded peers.
  • A shift from editor to curator. Magazines can make readers their stars by making them contributors. Community itself can become a mode of distribution through sharing.
  • Most importantly, magazines need to keep their focus on being useful. Create content that serves the needs of the community wherever they are and whatever they are doing.
  • And finally, these communities can now transcend geographical barriers, and can truly be global.

The true essence of magazine in the digital world, can best be summed up in a line written by

Professor Samir Husni of the University of Mississippi, popularly known as Mr. Magazine, who wrote as far back in 2010, “Magazines are not just content providers, they are experience makers”.

Needless to say, it is up to the publishers and the magazine editorial teams to traverse this journey, from print only to a hybrid between print, digital, and various other “experiences”, all with a focus of nurturing deeply involved reader communities.

So, in a country of 1.3 billion people, and potentially millions of communities, what will it take for magazine brands to truly harness the information and entertainment needs of those diverse communities, across print and digital formats and through events and other formats of community building, and making rich experiences for their readers.

From greater understanding of reader identities, their behavioural attitudes, their information needs, to content curation and keeping pace with technology and digital eco-system advances, the Indian Magazine Congress 2023 will delve with this quest of magazine publishers to truly leverage the great strength of magazine brands to nurture a million communities in this diverse country.

Nath will speak at Indian Magazine Congress on March 24.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not in any way represent the views of exchange4media.com


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Such was Ved Pratap Vaidik

Guest Column: Umakant Lakhera, president of the Press Club of India, remembers the senior journalist

By Umakant Lakhera | Mar 14, 2023 5:14 PM   |   2 min read

Ved Pratap Vaidik

Ved Pratap Vaidik was one of the most prominent names in Hindi journalism for nearly six decades. Being an editor in Delhi, he had good relationships with prominent leaders in the country's politics.

Due to his simple nature, he mixed with people very easily. He was friendly with many leaders of the country and abroad, especially South Asia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal and the sub-continent. However, despite being a supporter of BJP and Sangh ideologies, his neglect in the new-old BJP has been surprising to many.

He was the leader of the Indian language movement. For a long time, he was actively associated with the campaign to advance all languages of the country.

My first meeting with Ved Pratap ji happened in 1988 during many programmes in Delhi. Later, the series of meetings continued in his office in PTI-Bhasha and later in South Ex. Wherever we met, he used to meet with great affection. He would never make us feel that he was such a senior journalist.

When he was invited as a speaker at the Press Club of India after the Taliban took over power in Kabul last year, he readily agreed.

Even at this point of age, writing something new every day was a part of his daily routine. A special quality of his writing was to give information to the common readers on the most difficult subject in simple language, so that everyone could easily understand complex issues.


Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not in any way represent the views of exchange4media.com


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Magazines remain media’s darlings!

Guest Column: Minette Ferreira, General Manager-Lifestyle and Community News, Media24, South Africa, shares how magazines have reinvented themselves in the digital age, more so during Covid

By Minette Ferreira | Mar 14, 2023 3:47 PM   |   6 min read

Minette Ferreira

Yes, we can talk about declining print revenues, shrinking readerships and the bruises Covid left on magazines worldwide. It certainly changed how we do business at Media24, South Africa’s biggest publisher. However, navigating these initial dire realities are now our inspirator. After digging a little deeper, we found opportunities that keep our innovative teams busy and excited and our communities engaged.


Niche to meet you!

During the Covid lockdowns, we saw a huge spike in consumption of niche content (most of it in print) like puzzles, gardening, knitting and cooking among South African audiences.

We know online consumers are looking to be informed of current events and entertained by escapist content. This is quite an odd mix for traditional media brands – how do we tick all the boxes for our users on one platform without compromising credibility or entertainment value?

Exactly that drove our niche focus – especially in the lifestyle space. All our 14 magazine titles are now publishing brand extensions that focus on special interests within the core markets that fill the gaps the digital world can’t necessarily capture locally. And where practical, we have the content available online. We publish more than 100 special interest magazines yearly – serving a multitude of special interest communities.

For example, our leading English female title Fair Lady publishes stand-alone diet magazines that focus on current trends – be it banting or fasting. The one brand extension that really hit the spot recently, is a menopause-focused publication titled HOT. We will also be hosting reader conferences this year on the topic.


Dear reader, show us the money (and your data)

The biggest challenge for traditional media is obviously the change in our business model - advertising revenue from traditional sources has shifted. In answer to this, we re-focussed on our core premise: Content. Delivering compelling, relevant, always-fresh quality content on world class delivery platforms.

Firstly, we increased print products’ cover prices quite significantly over the past few years. Our editors had a hard time with this one – they believed paying so much more would shrink our audiences significantly. Yes, the print audience numbers declined, but the trade-off on revenue has been an essential win.

Secondly, we invested heavily in the digital subscription model. PDF copies as well as sharing our brand content on Media24’s top digital news platforms, have ensured our communities have a digital home. And it is not for free.

It’s no secret: If a user sees value in unique content, they will come and they will pay.

The resistance to paying for digital content was initially miscalculated by digital publishers across the globe. Our focus on delivering trustworthy content delivered seamlessly to audiences is showing positive signs. We have seen successes that include Media24’s Afrikaans news paywall platform, Netwerk24, which launched in 2014 and has now almost reached 100 000 subscribers. The success of Netwerk24 has been hugely dependent on our ability to provide compelling, original, and premium content for a very specific audience. We have branched out by providing different content types, including audiobooks, games, short form soapies, and relevant video content. Essentially it is content that is unique, exclusive, and compelling.


Creating centres of content excellence

To ensure we could maintain and even improve the quality of content of our magazines, we introduced a new model in 2020 and outsourced the editorial functions of six of our magazines.

Despite the model being an effective cost management strategy, Covid highlighted the need of our editorial teams to operate more freely. In each case, existing editors established their own media company and created a partnership with Media24. Now Media24 focuses on the business of the business: Advertising sales, distribution, and marketing. And the creatives can focus on what they love – corporate hassles and red tape are no longer part of their lives. They run their own businesses, put together their own teams and most importantly, have more capacity than before to innovate and create content that speaks to their communities. Each of these publications are thriving – creatively and financially.


The more, the merrier!

The transition for our brands from paper to online has been an ongoing process of trial and error over the past two decades. More recently we decided to ringfence a few of our traditional print brand’s online presence under a new brand.

SNL24.com (an acronym for soccer, news and lifestyle) launched in September 2022 and is a curated platform providing a home for five titles that have a resonance in the middle black South African market. It includes two soccer titles, a news tabloid, a lifestyle and female title.

The new platform SNL24 appeals to soccer fans and those in search of engaging news and entertaining lifestyle content. Aimed at the middle and upper-middle markets, SNL24 boasts a potential target audience of 3.7 million and, when combined with an established print audience of 2.1 million, offers a comprehensive, integrated, and multi-platform communication opportunity for advertisers. The brands represented on the platform all have significant audience credibility and loyalty and complement each other as a collective, together improving their individual abilities to retain eyeballs.

What SNL24 has taught us is that scale improves our ability to migrate audiences to a digital platform and it takes time to build new brands. The platform uses AI to identify brand lovers and keeps them busy with their preferred content – and will then introduce more content from the other brands based on their reading preferences. Despite its recent launch the unique browser stats are really encouraging. And with a low-priced subscription model, we hope to not only build scale but grow additional revenue in the long run via paying consumers.

(And a side-note – destroying the silos between newspapers and magazines and refocusing content on communities and interest groups, has been much easier than I ever dreamed.)

It’s certainly not bad news for magazines. The world is waiting for our darlings.


Ferreira will speak at Indian Magazine Congress on March 24.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not in any way represent the views of exchange4media.com




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Is AI really going to change our world?

James Hewes – President & CEO, FIPP, shares his experience of putting ChatGPT to test

By exchange4media Staff | Mar 13, 2023 11:43 AM   |   3 min read


A few weeks ago, I decided to do some preparation for our annual FIPP World Media Congress, which takes place in Portugal in June, by writing my opening remarks. Normally, I would stand up and say a few words about the state of the industry and FIPP’s achievements over the past year.

Given all of the noise and attention around the raft of new AI writing tools that have seemingly emerged from nowhere all at once, I thought I would put ChatGPT to the test, and give it the task of writing my speech for me. 

Having prompted it, there followed a short period of deep thought, then a sudden rapid regurgitation of text. The speech, amounting to some 350 words was, at first glance quite well-written, containing phrases like “change is the only constant”, “we believe in the power of publishing” and “let us seize this opportunity to be bold”. I sat back thinking “task completed” and felt quite proud of myself. 

But then I started to re-read what the computer had written, and doubt crept into my mind. Were there too many clichés? Could these words actually apply to any event, not just a publishing conference? And, most of all, did it really sound like me? In the end, I’ve decided not to use it, realising that the text was somehow less than the sum of its parts. With a clean piece of paper, I’ve written it again, only this time it sounds more like me.

Amidst all the hype about AI-driven journalism, and the idea that it is going to come and steal our jobs, perhaps here is a dose of realism. AI is undoubtedly a very clever tool and, for many routine jobs, even routine journalism, it will perhaps prove to be a significant time-saver. But we must never delude ourselves into thinking that it is human, or that it is able to think and produce like a human. 

It is only ever the sum of its parts, in this case whatever limited information about FIPP, our industry and the event that it was able to scrape from the internet. (Incidentally, much of its learning is enabled by content that we ourselves have produced, without any compensation to us for taking these fruits of our labours to build a new product, but that’s another story…)

Only humans are able to provide that intuitive leap of the imagination, to forge the seemingly invisible connection or to come up with a wonderful, original turn of phrase that lingers in the mind. We must remain confident in our ability to out-smart the computers and, as in my case, pick up our metaphorical paper and pen and get back to the business of doing the thing only we can do – making compelling content.

James Hewes – President & CEO, FIPP, will be speaking at the Indian Magazine Congress. IMC is all set for a comeback as the flagship event of the Association of Indian Magazines. It is slated to be organised on March 24th, at the Oberoi, New Delhi.

The conference agenda is live at https://aim.org.in/imc12/

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Building Engaged Communities: How magazines stay relevant in changing media landscape

Guest Column: B Srinivasan, President of AIM and MD of Ananda Vikatan, writes on the strength and significance of magazines

By B Srinivasan | Mar 13, 2023 11:22 AM   |   5 min read

Ananda Vikatan

Ever since I took on the responsibility of the President of AIM at the peak of the pandemic in Sep 2020, it has been my dream to showcase the strength and significance of magazines in the media landscape. 

Having spent over three decades of my life in the pursuit of keeping myself relevant, I am patently biased towards the magazine media industry, but here goes! 

The magazine is a unique medium that has always driven perspective and enabled its communities to draw insights, rather than simply reporting and provoking audiences like most other media. We thrive in digging deep, and then digging wide in our coverage of happenings around us. We groom thinking and discerning communities and that has traditionally attracted our utility as an ideal brand building platform for compelling brand stories. 

Yet, in India, magazines are a small fraction of the print media industry- in single digits percentage- while our counterparts in the west, are almost equal the size of newspaper sector! What were the building blocks that enabled this mega size in West, and ones that we have seemingly missed in India. What could we learn from our international peers? 

My intrigue was enhanced by the approach of the west when digital became centre stage to our future. They had adapted and adopted best practices by experimenting and chiselling their way through consistently creating engaging communities. 

Whilst the typical magazine brands of yesteryear was successful when it was ‘broad-based’, of ‘general interest’ and meant ‘something for everyone in the family’, the magazine brands that succeed now are ones that cater to specific interests of a communities, are utilitarian to their readers and subscribers, represent value not just for money, but more important, for the only irreplaceable component of our daily lives – time!  

I had to unlearn and relearn everything I thought I knew about my industry. 

All this came to me from my partaking in international seminars like AIM’s Indian Magazine Congress, FIPP’s World Magazine Congress, FIPP-DZW Digital Innovators’ Summit, and so many more. Learnings in these events came not just from the deeply insightful presentations that these world class speakers showcased, but from heated debates and interactions I had on the side-lines of these events. 

In a world where readers have also become our competition (influencers), fake news has overtaken relevance over fact checking, ChatGPT has almost crossed the Rubicon of human reportage with machine language (AI/ML), when big tech and governments in vibrant democracies decide what is content ripe for take-down, it is ever so important that we discuss our concerns around policy, technology, distribution, client needs, and most importantly, what our communities expect of us. 

That is what we have been fostering under the hood for 6 months now. We are proud to present AIM’s 12th Indian Magazine Congress – Building Engaged Communities 

The road has been anything but straight and narrow. For starters, we all took giant leaps of faith! 

Faith that we could actually pull off such an international event when the market was still bearish, faith that we would make up the costs and contribute to AIM’s corpus when we then had no sponsors in sight, faith in our moonlighting skills - agonising over the agenda, curating the best of speakers, getting sponsors to commit, fixing the venue and ensuring that policymakers, clients, agencies, tech partners, international speakers and delegates. 

One look at the agenda (aim.org.in/imc12) and any publisher will realise that we are addressing magazines in the post pandemic new reality. 

The magazine industry took a crippling hit during the pandemic.   

  • Distributors were crushed under the weight of holding fort their last mile to the customer, while the country was convulsing under unpredictable, successive lockdowns. 
  • Advertisers lost hope that people would ever return to buy goods and services ‘the good old way’ – while online was clearly becoming a ‘tiger by the tail’ – more and more opaque, expensive, unrelenting.
  • Readers, viewers, surfers – communities were creating their own content like never before, opinion makers being hailed as truth tellers, and big media being relegated to ungracious truants.
  • Our own people were losing morale with the grapevine of losses and job/ salary cuts. 

Yet, I can say that in these past 3 years, in this new normal – we have come out stronger, more efficient, more willing to adapt and adopt, constantly growing our revenue streams, listening to our communities, creating engaging content around what matters most, having the guts to go behind a paywall, empathising with advertiser needs and creating marketing opportunities that suit client need and community fulfilment rather than force fitting what we have on offer – in short, we survive by transformation to stay relevant. 

The scenario is painfully the same world over, and the answers we have come up with are unique, yet similar.  

Please join us for AIM’s 12th Indian Magazine Congress, to be held at The Oberoi on Friday, 24th March, 2023 and learn how publishers are pulling up their socks, shedding their weight and transforming to stay relevant with only one commitment – to Building Engaged Communities. 

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not in any way represent the views of exchange4media.com


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Unlocking potential of nano communities by diversifying business models

Guest Column: Jean-Paul Reparon, Agrimedia, Netherlands, shares key fundamentals that can help publishers not only survive but thrive in this dynamic environment

By Jean Paul Reparon | Mar 13, 2023 11:08 AM   |   4 min read

Jean-Paul Reparon

The media landscape is constantly evolving, and publishers are facing increasingly complex challenges. However, there are some key fundamentals that can help publishers not only survive but thrive in this dynamic environment. As a small B2B publisher in the Dutch agricultural landscape, we have found success by focussing on the following fundamentals that are likely to be effective for other publishers as well.

360֯ Ecosystem: Creating a comprehensive experience for readers is crucial. This includes providing content through various channels, like events, magazines, newsletters, and more. By creating an ecosystem that caters to the diverse needs of their audience, publishers can keep their readers engaged and loyal.

Right time, right content, right channel: Identifying the right channels to reach readers is equally important. With so many channels available today, publishers must identify which channels their readers prefer and optimize content for those channels.

Content worth a subscription: To ensure that content is worth a subscription, publishers must focus on creating high-quality, valuable content that readers are willing to pay for. This can be achieved by investing in editorial talent, conducting thorough research, and ensuring that content is fact-checked and verified.

Expanding audiences: Identifying, reaching, engaging, and expanding the target audience is another crucial aspect of success for publishers. This can be accomplished through various marketing strategies, including paid advertising, social media, and SEO.

Collecting first-party data: Building a database with information about each user is essential for publishers. By collecting data about their audience, publishers can understand their interests and develop relevant products. This data can also be used to create targeted campaigns and personalized content.

Keep advertisers aligned: Developing commercial propositions that match the publisher's mission statement, add value for readers and advertisers, and meet market demand is important. By creating commercial propositions that align with their brand and mission, publishers can build a loyal following of readers and advertisers.

Customer service: Optimizing customer service is critical for publishers. Providing personal contact, good accessibility, real-time access to content, accessible content on multiple devices, and easy-to-use platforms are essential for publishers to compete with other companies that set the standard for excellent customer service.

These fundamentals have helped AgriMedia to succeed in the challenging media landscape. By employing editors who know our target group very well and providing relevant daily content that resonates with our readers, we have been able to build a strong reputation and a loyal base of subscribers.

We have also expanded our target audience through targeted campaigns. Collecting data about our audience allows us to create personalized content and newsletters that increase engagement and build loyalty.

We also decided to open our website for commercial content while maintaining respect for our readers. We have clearly indicated which content has been created by our editorial team and which content has been created by our partners. Our primary business model is based on subscriptions, making independent journalism a valuable asset.

By opening our website for commercial content, we had to keep in mind that we must guide our partners to create relevant and high-quality content to maintain the standard of our own product. Collaborating with partners provides us with an opportunity to ensure that the quality of their content aligns with our standards. This not only benefits our readers but also enhances the reputation and credibility of our brand. Besides this, it’s also generating extra revenue stream.

In conclusion, being a successful publisher today requires a focus on several fundamentals. By creating a comprehensive experience for readers, focussing on added value for readers and advertisers, producing high-quality content, expanding the target audience, collecting data, aligning with advertisers, and diversifying business models, publishers can thrive in today's challenging media landscape.

Jean Paul Reparon, Managing Director of Dutch B2B Publisher AgriMedia BV (www.agrimedia.nl), will be speaking at the Indian Magazine Congress about these fundamentals and how AgriMedia is “striking gold with nurturing nano communities” (of a few thousand each).  IMC is all set for a comeback as the flagship event of the Association of Indian Magazines. It is slated to be organised on March 24th at the Oberoi, New Delhi.

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New challenges in ad sales

Guest Column: Jim Elliott writes on why one sales approach doesn’t work for all publications

By Jim Elliott | Mar 13, 2023 11:08 AM   |   3 min read


In 2023, more than 7,500 magazines are listed in the American advertising industry’s reference source, SRDS — 2,839 consumer magazines and 3,814 business publications.   Magazines produced by associations may fall into either category.  The Elliott Company sells advertising and sponsorships for publishers in all three of these categories.  We are reminded daily that no one sales approach can work for all of them.

Today, in the US, and I suspect around the world, selling advertising and sponsorship has become much more complicated than ever before, requiring more skills and more knowledge than just a few years ago.  The proliferation of advertising vehicles can be overwhelming to advertising sales teams unless they are constantly learning and evolving. 

Competitors are no longer limited to similar media and categories.  Magazine publishers must compete for dollars not only with other magazines but also with other mediums; newsletters, podcasts, video, social media, other digital products, and in-person events such as exhibitions, conferences, and summits. 

There are many ways to reach a buyer of goods and services today, and astute salespeople learn as much as they can about all of them.  Many publishers have broadened their offerings to include additional opportunities.  Of course, sellers need to understand how to compete against elements introduced by other media brands. Sellers must know how all the opportunities created by publishers they represent can work together to maximize value to advertisers and sponsors. 

There are so many ways to reach buyers — and so many different sellers representing them — that potential advertisers can be overwhelmed and distracted. Sellers must ask questions and listen so that they fully understand exactly the marketer’s goals and the best vehicles to help them reach those goals.  

One of the most effective approaches our sales teams offer is brand studio work.  Advertising is tailored to fit the content in which it appears.  Some publishers allow their editorial staff to work with advertisers; others have different writers.  The key is for the marketing product developed in the brand studio to mesh with the editorial. 

Selling advertising has gotten more complicated, and it promises to become even more so.  Artificial intelligence tools like ChatGPT, just now becoming popular, will allow mass customization of outreach.  A recent white paper by the data company MediaRadar points out that artificial intelligence will dramatically multiply the number of advertisers a sales team can contact.  The benefit is that AI will reduce the time required by ad sellers to do their preparation for marketers and agencies.  The downside is that every competitor will have access to similar tools and the volume of “relevant” messages aimed at each marketer and agency will grow exponentially.

Successful sales organizations will need to find answers to challenges like artificial intelligence, just as they are finding solutions to the problem of proliferation of advertising and sponsorship opportunities.  Publishers will need to hire salespeople with the curiosity and motivation to stay abreast of constant innovation and the skill sets that enable them to sell in the changing environment. 

As Rishad Tobaccowala, Senior Advisor to Publicis Groupe says, “the future will not fit the containers of the past”.  Nothing could be truer in the world of advertising sales.

Jim Elliott, President, James G Elliott & Co., will be speaking at the Indian Magazine Congress. IMC is all set for a comeback as the flagship event of the Association of Indian Magazines. It is slated to be organised on March 24th at the Oberoi, New Delhi.

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