For India's magazine industry it's a long road to recovery as the medium is currently at only 60%-70% of the pre-Covid revenue.
The industry is now not running behind display advertising from marketers, but focusing on building collaborative content marketing solutions for brands at an industry level.
In a conversation with BestMediaInfo.com, Anant Nath, Executive Publisher, Delhi Press shared that the magazines as a medium are not readily available in media plans because of various reasons.
Nath said that the idea behind setting up Dastaan, a combined branded hub of over 125 magazines that has been set up to offer brands a joint platform that they can use for a better reach, is to look at magazines as a category and not pit them against each other.
Talking about the digital subscription model for magazines, Nath said that the micropayment model is not a viable one. He said that the magazine industry must fix its distribution and circulation in order to gain the trust of marketers.
Sharing his views on the recent IT rules and its impact on the industry, Nath said that they were draconian and would lead to increased government interference. He also said that the media industry today needs a truly independent self-regulatory body.
How do you see brands spending money on magazines, be it digital or print, when it comes to content solutions?
The reason we thought of content solutions is that more and more advertising that we are getting is branded content. Display advertising has gone down in the past few years, brands want magazines for branded content so there is a clear need there.
We have agreed and are ensuring a clear boundary between branded content and editorial content so that readers don’t feel cheated.
What will Dastaan bring to the table?
The primary proposition is that more and more marketers are looking for content solutions. A lot of them have went about creating content teams of their own to create a content ecosystem that sort of aligns with their products. However, the problem they face is where do they publish it? If they publish it on their own websites and social media handles it will be a promotion.
The advantage of aligning with magazines is you are riding on some readership and some kind of editorial equity that the magazines have. When they are looking for branded content it is cumbersome for them to tie up with multiple magazines, geographies, and languages. So, they end up doing some activity with one magazine or a couple of them at best. We are providing a centralised solution that will let them get access to a fairly huge readership across demographics and languages. They can also customise a standardised solution because each magazine has its own way of doing content solutions. It will make sure that the quality of the branded content is of consistent nature across publications. So, this is the primary benefit.
Another advantage is language, for a marketer to create content in multiple languages can be quite a task. So here, because the content studio will work with the language team of various publications, you can access multiple languages through one window. This is what marketers want the most, they want content in Indian languages and not just English and Hindi.
The studio will help marketers transient multiple interests, genres, demographics and create content that is relevant for each genre, in a standardised way to reach a bigger audience. Together, magazines with their digital platforms and editions have almost 150 million readers which are comparable to any other media.
Is this initiative inspired by the OneIndia, which was a similar alliance made by HT, ABP and The Hindu?
Sort of, yes. The starting point was the OneIndia alliance but then we realised that just display advertising would not work for us because marketers don't think of magazines as a reach medium.
The perception is that magazines have great content and editorial teams that are aligned to a certain genre. So, there are women’s magazines, automotive magazines, travel magazines, health magazines.
When they think of magazines and they think of engagement, but somehow, they're not able to marry engagement with reach. Their feedback is that we know that you guys make great content, you have good engagement, but we're not able to get a huge reach. Now with the cross-magnet solution, we are able to give them a comparable reach to any other media.
And obviously, the marketers will get a better rate. Publishers might get a lesser rate but the idea is to look at the larger pie and look at magazines as a category rather than magazines against each other.
With a large part of the revenue moving to digital, to what extent have the magazine publishers been able to make up for the lost revenue through their digital presence?
I can tell you from our perspective. The share of digital has gone up. Today, 30-35% of our revenue comes through digital, whereas the digital revenue share was hardly 5% pre-Covid. The subscription revenue, which used to be hardly 10% pre-pandemic, is almost at 40% today.
Association of Indian Magazines is trying to build a very strong subscription strategy for all publishers through online sales, to take up joint marketing initiatives to sell subscriptions. The other issue we are working on is to improve the distribution efficiency ensuring the magazine gets delivered better.
Is there a figure to attribute how much of the lost revenue has been tapped by publishers by their digital strategy?
We are still at 60-70% of our pre-Covid revenue. We are still behind.
How has the growth of Delhi press been in FY2022 over the pre-pandemic year?
Compared to last year we are much better. Last year we would have closed at 40-45% of our revenue, today we are up by almost 60-70%. That is because we had de-grown so much that growth had to be inevitable. When we will come back to the pre-pandemic level is still uncertain. The market situation is still unclear.
Many brands have written off magazines completely, they have removed magazines from their advertising plans and strategies so how long will the magazine thrive amid this challenge?
You’re right that marketers don’t have magazines as a part of their planning readily but the reason for the loss of trust is they don’t know if the magazines are being distributed well. So, the first challenge is to fix distribution and also to build digital assets. Everyone has built digital assets well but print distribution has to be strengthened and that's what we have done. The next step is to take the story to the advertisers. It's an uphill task
What would you tell the brands if you have to tell them to invest in magazines in short?
If you include magazines the way they should be included, your media plan will be far more comprehensive. There are many paths to your media plan, reach is one, awareness is one and education is one. We are high on educating the customer and giving a reasonable reach. Magazines are in the game of educating and making our readers understand your benefits. So, if you include magazines, it will be a wholesome campaign.
For many publishers, magazines were mainline business but do you see the danger of magazines becoming a side product?
No. For most businesses we are talking to, magazines are an important medium. India Today is very big on television but magazines are also a core business for them.
Shutting a few magazines was a symptom; the cause was that distribution was affected very badly. We are trying to resolve the cause. It’s difficult for an independent publisher to distribute magazines in the country today, but now if you are able to put together a nice cohesive system, even an individual publisher will be able to publish his magazine.
Many publishers have enabled micropayments for magazines content on the web, how is that panning out for publishers and Delhi Press?
I think we are one of the few who have done that. Not micropayments, which is paying for each article, but we offer an annual subscription on content. We started this last year only for Hindi Magazines and The Caravan. The Caravan has been very successful. Almost 60-70% of our revenue for The Caravan comes through subscriptions. We have 18,000 active subscribers for Caravan.
Do you not believe in micropayments?
No, that is not something we are looking at. It does not make any sense; you cannot unbundle and give one article. You have to give a bundle. Micropayments were a fad but it didn’t work out globally. I don’t think any major publisher is giving micropayments, they are either giving monthly or quarterly or annual subscriptions.
Even for our Hindi magazine, we thought about micropayments but it did not make sense. We have 10,000 active subscribers for the Hindi magazine. So, it has fared well. Overall, we stand to gain by keeping these annual and quarterly subscription plans. We might lose some readers but on the whole, this is working out better for us.
How do you view the new IT Rules?
We are very much against the rules. They are draconian, they are meant to put pressure on publishers from publishing content that is critical of the government. Anyone can complain and the publisher has to respond. They can go to a higher level to the self-regulatory bodies and even then, if they are not satisfied, they can go to an inter-ministerial body.
There it will be held by government bureaucrats who will follow the government’s diktat. It is almost like creating a regulation where the authority is government. It is inherently against free speech.
So, we are opposing it, we would want it to be withdrawn or modified. Having self-regulation is okay, but having a regulation where the top adjudicating authority is the government is unfair. Self-regulation should be something like PCI but even that is now too much under government’s control. What we need is a truly independent regulatory body which we don’t have.