Could Indian mags go the Newsweek way?

26 Oct,2012


By Ananya Saha


Newsweek, founded nearly eight decades ago, is moving to a digital-only product from 2013. According to editor-in-chief Tina Brown, it cost $42 million a year to manufacture, print, distribute, and manage the circulation of Newsweek.


Newsweek is in the best position to go completely digital due to their strong online presence through Daily Beast. But the news has sounded an alarm bell for print magazines all around the world. As news becomes a 24/7 affair and people prefer online access, the readership of news magazines is on decline the world over. It is no wonder then that magazines are reaffirming their presence in the online space too. With Kindle usage on the rise, e-magazines are creating waves.


Tarun Rai

Even as Indian print industry continues to see new launches, the readership is on the decline (though a minor slide), as recorded by recent IRS figures. “I am not very surprised at the decision. I believe the issue for Newsweek is the nature of the magazine it is. As a result, the relevance of a weekly ‘news digest’ has diminished. It is not a question of print or digital – it is a question of the nature of some magazines that may not be as relevant today. The same cannot be said for lifestyle and special interest magazines,” opined Tarun Rai, President of the Association of Indian Magazines and CEO, Worldwide Media.


Suggesting that print media still has a bright future, Paresh Nath, Editor and Publisher, Delhi Press said, “It is more of a failure of a publisher than the sunset of an industry. Printed books and material will continue to be relevant as they were in the last several hundred years.” Agreeing that the digital market for Newsweek may have matured earlier than the publishers expected, Pradeep Gupta, chairman and managing director of CyberMedia, said, “In the market they are operating in, digital is growing very rapidly and therefore Newsweek has moved in that direction.”


The predicament of the dawn of the digital era has been repeated often in the Indian context.


“I am happy to say that magazines are already re-inventing themselves for the digital world. Abroad as well as in India. All our magazines are available in their digital versions. We are also aggressively developing various magazines’ apps and will be launching them soon. We see an opportunity in reaching a new younger audience through our digital initiatives,” said Mr Rai.


Even while most magazines have moved towards digital and print versions simultaneously, the print version remains important for reaching the wider audience of readers and advertisers. Time magazine also has responded with their online version adaptable to any platform and any size, particularly for mobile reading. Varghese Chandy, Chief General Manager, Marketing Advertising Sales at Malayala Manorama said, “Reinventing needs to be done not only for news magazines, but every single product for its survival.”


According to Anilkumar Sathiraju, AVP & Head, DDB MudraMax – Media, South, revenue will still come from print version since revenues from digital in India are still at a nascent stage, even though digital penetration is increasing rapidly. Going forward, he predicted that revenues will still be higher from offline magazines.


Magazine have the most engaging format with the deepest touch points according to various international surveys. The growing numbers of tablets reassert the fact that this is the platform that gives the closest magazine-reading experience. Mr Chandy said, “However, monetizing the digital platform will be a greater challenge even for Newsweek.”


While the industry believes that magazines should be ready for the digital era, Mr Nath holds an interesting view: “Magazines do not need to reinvent themselves due to the digital onslaught. Digital delivery of content is like delivering content in Times Square by shouting when hundreds of voices are simultaneously trying to convey the same or similar things. When crowds assembled in Tahrir Square, Cairo, it was thought that the digital media is a powerful weapon, as sentiments were whipped up not by newspapers but by digital media. What is the end result? Muslim Brotherhood that conveys thoughts through printed material ultimately got into power. Very little original content is created on digital media. It only copies and pastes and does so millions of times over. Magazines or print versions of newspapers do not know how to overcome the shouting match where noise and not seriousness is the basic currency. When the time of reckoning comes, people will have to go to the print version, and magazines and newspapers will remain relevant. Magazines have to find out how to outgrow the noise.”


Delivery is still an issue – from readers visiting libraries in the past for content consumption, to wanting the content delivered to them. “Print brands have given up the will to fight and are trying to join the digital crowd that has weapons stolen from print itself. Yes, the world of delivery has changed, not consumption of content,” said Mr Nath.


But with readers wanting immediate access to content, 24×7, digital is only going to grow. It is time that that magazines move faster towards the digital era, according to Mr. Sathiraju.



The way forward

“In India, spend on magazines continues to grow because of an increase in literacy, increase in disposal income and lower internet penetration. Therefore, Indian publishers are embracing digital formats. Print advertising is currently 10 times the digital advertising in India. Over the next five years, the penetration of digital will increase. And that is why CyberMedia has reoriented its strategy around creating of a media mesh,” predicted Mr Gupta.


Mr Nath said that the question of digital versus print comes from the English-educated class in India. He said, “Long ago in India, content used to be created and consumed under the banyan tree. Now it is in front of a screen but the quality of this content is poor, one-way, where hundreds speak and no one listens. In India among the English educated there is a problem as this class cannot enjoy English content (is there any English Indian serials or English Indian movies or English Indian music?) whether in print or on digital media. This class keeps shouting that print is dying as it does not know how to ‘read’ in any language.”


The view might hold true but the increased consumption of magazines on digital platforms cannot be ignored.


“It’s anybody’s guess as to when the digital versions of magazines will become bigger than the printed ones. I firmly believe that the lifestyle and special-interest magazines space will continue to grow in both. It is the sunrise sector of Indian media. And both the print as well as the digital versions will grow, allowing our content to reach an even wider audience,” said Mr Rai.


As Mr Chandy concluded, “The Indian print industry needs to be ready for the future. Currently online penetration is single-digit. This is likely to change in the near future, especially in the metros.” Thus, publishers need to be platform-agnostic and essentially become content managers. Their primary task will be to reach the audience through whichever platform is relevant.


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