Digital is a given for Magazines

10 Nov,2016



A quick chat with Mitrajit Bhattacharya, outgoing president of AIM and Chitralekha group president & publisher on the sidelines of the Indian Magazine Congress held in Mumbai on Wednesday. Text and video by Santosh Jangid.


The various adspend forecasts don’t paint a very good picture of the AdEx growth of magazines, in fact a recent WARC study which combines various studies puts the picture in the negative for 2016 and 2017. As President of the Association of Indian Magazines, what is your view on the magazine sector?

There is a lot of good work that is happening by magazine brands and that is obviously moving into social media. If you see some of the legacy brands, the way they are catching up with social media, they are riding the wave. It is absolutely on par with any of the new age social media platforms. Also non-traditional format of experiential for magazines is a very weak source of revenue which if you see all major groups today activate major programmes whether they are events owned by them or they participate in major events. So if you look at Chitralekha as a group, we do a very large scale Bollywood concerts which sometimes have about 10 to 15,000 people. So they are very different kind of moneyspinners for the group. Similarly, if you look at the India Today group they have their own events which are pretty huge, similarly Outlook, Femina, Filmfare, they are doing major in the area of events. So events, digital, social media and all are coming together for magazines as a brand and I think we have to invest in this area and make the whole business profitable. Many brands have crossed the tide and started delivering profits for the investment that they have made in the past few years. I don’t see magazines in any trouble. It is as much in trouble as any other medium because it is completely unpredictable.


Successive editions of the magazine congress in the past have been talking about digital. How effectively would you say is everyone embracing digital beyond the e-magazines and porting content online?

I think we have crossed that stage many years ago. It is no longer the question of whether to get into digital or not because everyone is on digital platforms. A magazine like Filmfare is competing on social media with a company which is a year or two years old and covering celebrities and Bollywood. Digital is not a platform which we are discussing as magazine publishers whether to be in it or not. Different brands are on different stages of adoption on digital. Some brands have performed very well on Facebook, some people have done well on Twitter and some have adopted the newer platform like Snapchat in a better way. Each one depending on whether you are a news publications or gossip publication have adopted to different social media platforms but you cannot have the same game which is going to be played by a news magazine like India Today or a film magazine like Filmfare or a regional magazine like Chitralekha. Chitralekha is 66 years old in the print form where the age profile of readers is very mature. They are all 35+ where as if you see our social media presence, we have over 1 million active fans who are under 35 years of age. Each one is using digital to its own advantage and there is no one size fits all. Magazine industry has adopted digital fairly but having said that, are we all satisfied? Obviously not because the digital environment changes almost on a daily basis so what works today does not work tomorrow. So that is a continuous process and yes I must agree that the revenues are still not in line with customer acquisition and thats where we need to figure out how to keep the costs low and how revenues should be on par with the customer base which our digital assets have acquired.


Are number of people visiting the online substantial enough to merit the spends on creating the content online?

It is a chicken-and-egg story. If you don’t do it, you will not get it and if you do, you may have to wait. You may be successful, you may take time to be successful, you may not be successful. MPA (Magazine Publishers Association) results from the US quoted substantial jumps from mobile and the amount that mobile is contributing today is huge but not revenues. So the access today comes 62% from mobile but only 16-17% revenue comes from mobile. These are the gaps which need to get filled up. It is a constant challenge which is not particular to print or magazines but the same challenge is faced by television broadcasters. Your programme is not watched on a pre-appointed time which you see it on television. You may watch it when you want to watch it, in whichever format it is available. So I think, is Netflix affecting broadcasters? Yes, it is.


What about paywalls? Some of the magazines are being sold online, but that is also being very heavily discounted

There is no such formula. Our magazines online are equally priced if not higher than our print copies. It is not necessary that you need to have discounted prices and that’s how it sells. It’s also convenience, it is also dollar pricing. A printed copy may cost Rs 25 and the online copy may also cost the same. Highly discounted rates are for subscription models which is in print. Physical deliveries are also going through subscription of 50% – 70%  off. Digital online magazines are a highly profitable model but just the volumes need to jump.


How effective is the monetisation happening online? Are print advertisers willing to pay extra for the digital edition?

That is really where the problem comes. First, you need readership figures, you need measurement figures which is print plus online. Until you have the online measurement figures, it is difficult to demand a certain price for the advertisement which runs on the digital version. There are issues but digital copies and the revenues from the digital copies that you sell online if very good and that’s growing because it’s convenient. If you have a consumer who is in America who is waiting for two days to get the product delivered, he is okay about getting it online without waiting and today readability is much better. Phones are huge platforms. Currently, a lot of publishers are dumping the desktop data on mobiles and not creating content for mobiles. Mobile is very different from digital because with digital you create something and start putting in different formats but in mobile first, you create content only for mobile devices. That is where the tipping point would be, as to how big the mobile category is so that you start investing for content which is only for mobile.


Despite the negative view on advertising spends and readership of magazines, we still have new magazines being launched, especially in the B2B arena?

The launch of magazine is not an expensive proposition. So if you have conviction, lot of people launch magazines because the cost of launching a B2B magazine is pretty low but I don’t believe in that concept because you should not launch a product because it is cheap to launch it. If you see the spate of products coming in the market, it has really slowed down. We have had hardly any major magazine which has been launched in the last two to three years whereas a lot of them have either closed down or recalibrate. That’s the maturing up of the market. You see a lot of global licences which were given to Indian publishers they have pretty much realised there is not so much of a market here and they have gone back. I don’t think that mad rush of launching magazines is any longer there and talking about B2B, people launch because it is cheap and economical to launch. They try their hand out, if it works, it works, if it doesn’t work it’s fine. I must add that B2B magazines have a great role in building communities which they can do well beyond their printed avatars. And the success rates of these community-building B2B properties are very high.


One last question: your view on the Magazine Congress. We’ve had two-day congresses in the past, and this year it’s been just a one-day affair?

Everything is getting concise, our attention is getting concise. Earlier, we had a lot of international speakers, they would come, speak and they used to sell. They were all licensers of major magazines so they were very actively romancing this market. We have passed that stage. Also, people’s attention is very low nowadays and getting so many people for two days is a very difficult format. So this time, it is very tight but we have managed to get good speakers from different fields. We have got people who not just come and talk, you will hardly find publishers speaking in this congress. We are not trying to restrict knowledge from within the industry, for the industry and for the industry because we have passed those stages and this is the 10th congress.


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