MxM Mondays: Is magazine readership sliding?

11 Feb,2013


By Ananya Saha


As magazine publishers are set to meet for the Indian Magazine Congress in Mumbai on February 14 and 15, the indifferent numbers posted by the latest findings of the Indian Readership Survey continue to mar what appears to be business as usual. According to the IRS 2012 Q3 figures, magazine readership is on the decline barring a few magazines that have gained AIR.


Even as the Indian print industry continues to see new launches, the readership of magazines is sliding (including regional language, Hindi and English magazines), as recorded by the IRS. MxMIndia spoke to a cross-section of industry veterans about the Indian magazine industry, and the shape of things to come. In alphabetical order of their last names:


Suresh Balakrishna, CEO, BPN

Newspapers and television have taken over the space which was once occupied by magazines. Therefore, general news/interest magazines readership is on a decline. However, niche magazines which cater to a small but specific audience are doing well and will continue to do well. Even as we speak niche magazines on jewellery, garments, travel etc are being launched. And advertisers are interested in putting their money on them as they are leisure magazines and will get their message across to their target audience. Hence, the future of niche magazines is bright although other magazines will have to take a hit



Mitrajit Bhattacharya, Publisher & President, Chitralekha Group

A survey like IRS hardly does justice to a highly complex category like magazines. Magazines are heterogeneous in nature with skewed distribution, which is missed by a huge survey like IRS; or in simple words, IRS is not even designed to capture readership of magazines (particularly special interest or niche ones). There are concerns about certain genres of magazines facing difficulties in retaining loyalty among its audiences, but there is surely traction in the specialized space. How else can you justify launch of so many new titles every year? IRS is not a good measurement tool. It is a one-size-fits-all omnibus survey with no focus on skewed distribution of magazines.


The industry is reorienting, specialised genres are doing great even if some traditional genres are threatened. Also the digital formats are doing well for all big magazine brands. I see further traction in this. Digital will complement the print formats in a great way and magazines will lead the space for their superior content and presentation.


Varghese Chandy, Chief General Manager, Marketing Advertising Sales, Malayala Manorama

The quarterly result or six-month readership data will not establish if readership is declining or not. The readership is dropping compared to a few years ago. What we need to understand is that the way a magazine is consumed or read is getting different. It is changing because online versions are available. The time will come that when you talk of magazine readership, you will actually have to add the online and offline (print) readership of the magazine, including tablets and mobile. That is what one should look at in the long run, whether you are able to retain readership through all possible formats. Unfortunately, we are not in position to capture this readership currently.


The way readership is captured in India for the magazine is very newspaper-oriented. For the newspaper, the readership is concentrated is the catchment area that is near printing or publication centres. Magazines, on the other hand, are dispersed widely, and in most cases, nationally. Even the language magazines are dispersed beyond one geographical state where the language is read. Thus, the sample pickup for magazine and newspaper cannot be the same because of the wide dispersion. The present readership survey, and this is something all of us have been saying for some time, is not actually geared to capture the readership of the magazines; particularly the niche magazines and magazines that have specialized readership.


That is why you see readership drop even in cases of English and general interest magazines. Some readership figures and drops should be seen as rationalization of numbers. There used to be a time when the readership of one copy was seen as 10 or 15, which is out of the question. Some of this rationalization is definitely happening.


We need a much larger sample base for a magazine-focused readership survey.


Ashish Pherwani, Partner, Advisory Services, M&E, Ernst & Young

To measure the readership of magazines, a standard measure is used by IRS. It does not capture the online readership of magazines. Also, one needs to understand that readership is one of the ways that a magazine reaches the readers. The magazine is a brand that you (readers) believe in. The brand can reach their targeted audience via television, internet, tablet, event etc. Take the example of Femina: the brand is larger than a magazine and the database of customers that Femina is connected with is much bigger than its magazine readership. It is connected to readers via Facebook, social media, its website, events, and what not.


IRS is the only currency, so it needs to be used. It does not measure the brand value. IRS is just one part of the brand and publishers need to take cognizance of that.


Tarun Rai, CEO, World Wide Media and President, AIM

Declining readership of magazines is a myth. Magazines like all media are going through dynamic changes. Yes, there are some genres of magazines which may be witnessing some decline but most others should actually be showing an increase. Our circulation numbers are going up. So many new magazines are being launched. That wouldn’t be the case if readership was going down.


There are issues with the retail infrastructure of magazines. Getting our magazines to our readers is not easy and is expensive. However, our concern is more fair measurement. In its current form the IRS does not capture the reality of magazine readership. We have been in discussions with them and hope we will be able to get to a satisfactory solution soon.


Rather than a decline, we see an increase in magazine readership, going forward. There are two reasons for this. On the one hand, with increasing disposable incomes and more choices, people are looking for quality content and expert advice which only magazines offer. On the other hand, digital devices are enabling magazines to take their content to a much larger number of people. And digital technology also allows magazine editors to enhance the reading experience. I believe that lifestyle and special interest magazines are the sunrise sector of Indian media.


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