Magazines lead print sprint

Circa 1996. A close look at an A H Wheeler newsstand at any Indian railway station reveals hardly 40 magazines on display, and that too in the film and generals interest category.

Circa 2006. A close look at the same newsstand shows up more than a 100 magazines.

What‘s up? The Indian print media sector has got into the grip of magazine mania ever since the government permitted foreigners to invest 26 per cent in general interest publications and 74 per cent in special interest ones. Publishers both foreign and Indian have been introducing magazines in genres and targeted at segments which were unimaginable earlier.

Source: Guide to Indian Markets 2006 by Hansa Research & MRUC

Hear out Mediaedge:cia general manager Mumbai Manas Mishra: "It‘s boom time for the magazine market and especially so for the niche magazine segment. I think, the market is still going to grow further. So, while the existing magazines will continue to do well and in the coming months, one is definitely going to see many more publications make a foray."

Elaborating further, A.C. Nielsen client services director ND Badrinath says, "The game is really to work towards market expansion, with existing publishers launching niche magazines, right from photography to automobiles to food to healthcare."

His estimate is that close to two magazines a month have launched in the past year, making it close to 24 new magazines that are out in the market today. "As consumerism is rising, so also is an appetite for special interest magazines. Also, what has made it interesting for the foreigner is the higher ceiling of 74 per cent in special interest non-news publications," feels Badrinath.

The major magazine players are not just sitting back and watching the fun. English news magazine leader India Today has jacked up its cover price to Rs 20, a move that has been carried through by rival Outlook as well. The Week from the Malayala Manorama stable, meanwhile, has also upped its price to Rs 15.

And the tie-ups have been happening apace as well. Consider:

* Bennet Coleman & Co floated a 50:50 joint venture called World Wide Media - with the BBC last year. Under this, the joint venture will roll out new niche titles from the BBC stable in the Indian market while BCCL will sell ad space. Among the magazines which have rolled out include Top Gear. Others are expected to be introduced soon.

* Infomedia India Limited, India‘s leading special interest magazine and directory publishing company, set up a 51:49% joint venture with Reed Business Information called Reed Infomedia India Pvt. Ltd. The purpose: license titles from the Reed portfolio for the Indian market including the likes of Variety, JCK, Control Engineering and Logistics Management.

* In December 2005, Playboy Enterprises announced that it would launch its magazine with its usual fare, except for its name and its nudes. Christie Hefner, the chief executive of Playboy Enterprises had then announced to media that its Indian version "would be an extension of Playboy that would be focused around the lifestyle, pop culture, celebrity, fashion, sports and interview elements of Playboy." But the magazine would not be "classic Playboy," she warned. "It would not have nudity," she said, "and I don‘t think it would be called Playboy."

* To add on more to the action, is the Outlook group, publisher of the English weekly newsmagazine Outlook, has tied up with McCGraw Hill to bring out the best selling international newsweekly Newsweek into India. The Outlook management says it will relaunch the magazine (bring out a facsimile edition) this year by pricing it at locally affordable prices with Indian advertising with the content however being international. The magazine will be printed in Singapore, and will be shipped to India.

Says Outlook president and publisher Maheshwari Peri, "Today it is sold at Rs 80 per copy. To make it a mass product we will have to sell it at the prevailing prices in the country for mass market magazines. We will also undertake a brand promotion exercise." His goal is to double the magazine‘s circulation in India from the 13,000 copies currently within a year.

"We will be able to break the price barrier, which is the key in making the product affordable," Peri says.

Meanwhile, he has also inked a deal to bring to bring the leading international women‘s magazine Marie Claire to India. And of course, the group has also recently launched a business magazine called Outlook Business, which it is promoting aggressively.

* The India Today Group has been publishing Readers Digest, Cosmopolitan, Scientific American India and Golf Digest under different licence agreements from their US parents. The group is gearing up to reintroduce Time in India. Earlier it was distributing it along with magazines such as Fortune, but is now looking to take Newsweek head-on by introducing Time at Indian pricing. This apart, it has announced plans to introduce a regional language version of Readers Digest.

But where the action has really been red hot is in the men‘s lifestyle segment. A few months ago, Maxim publisher, Dennis Publishing licensed the title to speciality publisher Media Transasia. Man‘s World - a publication launched by Anuradha Mahindra - has been in this space for almost half a decade.

Says Maxim India CEO and associate publisher Piyush Sharma, "India has the most underpenetrated and underleveraged print media sector, especially magazines. In almost every genre there is either zero or just one or two players, as compared to the UK, which has 600 publishers and the US which has 2,000 publishers. And while there are many publications and publishing houses, just about 15-20 of them account for 80 per cent of revenues. We are looking at launching another three publications from the Media Tranasia stable - two of these are focused on travel, and women respectively."

The goal, for starters, according to Sharma, is to take circulation of Maxim up to 80,000 copies. The first three issues, according to Sharma, have received a great response and almost all ad pages have been sold out.

Source: Guide to Indian Markets 2006 by Hansa Research & MRUC

To take on the fight further, the Malayala Manorama group have gone ahead and launched a niche, lifestyle magazine called The Man. But, is there space for a third and fourth magazine in the genre, with Man‘s World and Maxim already in the market?

Says Pinaki Chattopadhyay, senior manager marketing, for The Week, "We decided to go ahead with a men‘s magazine, when research proved that there‘s a market for a magazine like this. We‘re printing around 30,000 copies and are also upbeat about the advertising potential of the brand."

Adds Chattopadhyay, "The urban Indian man, we felt, needed a publication that understood his informational needs as a person who is evolving in response to changing city life, social roles and attitudes. He needed a publication that knew how to meet his aspirational needs as a consumer who sought a better lifestyle. Hence The Man."

"Niche, premium magazines definitely have a lot of scope in the country with foreign brands making a foray and looking for specialized platforms to advertise, " says Manas Mishra. "Though, the circulation might be less, but brands like Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior, Fendi, Schanel would rather advertise on these premium magazines and not go in with the general interest magazines."

And statistics bear this out. According to TAM Research, magazine ad spend grew by 15 per cent in 2005 to reach Rs 7 billion with general interest (39 per cent) and women‘s (21 per cent) categories taking up 60 per cent of spend business, while the remainder 15 per cent was controlled by a large number of special interest titles.

Observers point out that it is this 15 per cent, which is only going to grow as niche magazines and consumer products wanting to reach out to their niche readers proliferate. Says a media observer, "But care has to be taken that the party does not get spoilt by an overkill of titles. Only the fittest will survive."

Hopefully, the wannabe magazine barons are tuned in!

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