It's a 'Mag' world!

Fresh off reading the novel The Devil wears Prada and this writer is fascinated by the world of hi- fashion, hi- gloss magazines. But special interest or niche magazines are not limited to fashion, lifestyle or women's titles alone. In fact one look at the Indian space and you will find a title for every issue that you might conjure.

While general news, sports, women and fashion and lifestyle magazines are more popular and catch the reader's eye, dig a little deeper and you'll find magazines on interiors, housekeeping, carpentry, auto, health, travel, art and design. And given the average Indian's penchant for weddings - well even an array of wedding magazines dealing with the latest in bridal fashion and bridal jewellery.

With so many titles in the market and the niche segment only poised to grow further,Indiantelevision.comdecides to delve further into this largely unexplored market. Such an analysis becomes even more pertinent in the light of declining readership numbers and constant 'death of the magazine' refrain.

The special interest magazine serves two masters and there are plenty of titles in both B2B and B2C segments to choose from. The top four categories in magazine publishing measured and reported (IRS, NRS, TAM) include: general interest, women's magazines, fashion and lifestyle and business magazines.

Talking about the B2B sector, Infomedia special magazines general manager publishing Krishna Tewari says, "B2B segment until now has been subscription based and controlled. It is only in recent times that the segment has grown into a more professional, organized sector. The B2C magazines on the other hand have been more visible right from the start but the entry of international publishing houses has ensured better competition amongst the existing players as well."

The entry of international titles has only reawakened interest in this segment, despite research studies stating a decline in readership figures. In fact, throughout 2004 and for the most part of 2005, seminars and conferences held on print and publishing sounded a death knell for this industry.

The move was largely facilitated by the government permit to allow FDI upto 26 per cent in general interest publications and 74 per cent in special interest magazines.

Magazines have declined in reach from 9 per cent (2005) to 8 per cent (2006) over the last one year. Magazines overall show a decline in the reader base, both in urban and rural India. The reach of magazines has declined from 75 million in 2005 to 68 million in 2006. Magazines have lost 12 per cent of their reach since 2005. It must be remembered of course that this refers only to mainstream magazines. A host of niche titles that continue to be launched regularly are not fielded and their collective readership estimate is outside the purview of the study. (NRS 2006 findings)

Despite the NRS findings there is still significant scope for growth, as '359 million people who can read and understand any language do not read any publication'. (NRS 2006 findings)

So it is not just affordability that is a constraint, since 20 million of these literate non-readers belong to the upscale SEC A and B


This is the market that international publishers are looking to woo. Here's a look at some on the already existing players in the field. With the first major titles already in the market many of them are now looking to expand.

Worldwide Media Inc, a 50:50 JV between Times Group and BBC formed Worldwide Media Inc. The first launch from its stableTopGear is an auto magazine while the company is also actively looking at women and entertainment segments to further increase their titles roster.

Infomedia India Limited has been a major player specializing in this category. The company set up a 51:49 joint venture with Reed Business Information called Reed Infomedia India Pvt Ltd. Reed Business Information is part of the $ 9 billion Reed Elsevier group. Their publishing activities are focused at two broad categories - special interest consumer publishing, B2B and trade publishing. Presently, it publishes 20 titles, out of which eight are consumer magazines and 12 are trade magazines. Chip, Overdrive, AV Maxare some of their flagship brands, amongst others. The publisher also tied up Disney Publishing Worldwide India in December 2006 to launch Disney Adventures, an international tweens and kids? magazine.

- Haymarket Publishing of UK entered India in a 50:50 joint venture with Sorabjee Automotive Communications (SAC), publishers of Autocar India and launched its second title Autocar Professional in November 2004.

- The much awaited titles Conde Nast International's Indian edition of Vogue and Playboy magazine from the Hefner stables are also set to hit the Indian shores this year.

Global brands are making a splash and how. But it is also important to see what it is that these brands mean to an Indian readership. Says Starcom managing director, India - West & South Manish Porwal, "Both realistically and perceptually, India is a booming market. Although, if you had to compare the Indian special interest segment with those in the west or even some countries in Asia, you will realize that there are at least seven to 10 magazines in each genre while in India the numbers barely cross three to four. But it is the sign of a maturing audience that brings international publishers to this market."

The question of greater choice is also answered by the entry of these niche magazines given increasing interest in specific topics and markets. He says, "What these magazines bring to Indian audiences is a more genuine choice. So if you had to look at the technology segment, you would have magazines for the professional and magazines for the so called dummies."

Advertising plays a very important role in the niche market segment. If the fallout of increasing awareness of lifestyle brands led to a boom in the fashion and lifestyle magazine segment or the traveling Indian exerted himself through travel magazines, it is now the turn of markets like the auto sector or fitness and health segment that is leading the charge.

As an example Porwal states, "One of the reasons international editions of women's magazines and fashion and lifestyle magazines were launched was due to a burgeoning lifestyle market. "Colour cosmetics, luxury goods and most top end products are now available in India. Designer labels in apparel, beauty products, accessories and home furnishings are the obvious advertisers for many of these magazines."

Industry experts, however, say that niche magazines in the US and the UK have a larger circulation base through subscriptions. In comparison, in India, niche magazines have a far smaller circulation base. Given that why aren't magazines alarmed just yet? Au contraire there are more special interest magazines set to roll out.

Conde Nast India managing director Alex Kuruvilla rubbishes the pessimism surrounding readership and niche magazines. "There are two approaches to magazine publishing anywhere in the world - you are either a market shaper or you become a market follower. As far as Conde Nast India and Vogue are concerned, we clearly want to be market shapers. Our experience and response in China has only strengthened our belief that there is a huge market for fashion and beauty in India as well and Vogue is certainly the bible on anything to do with fashion."

Conde Nast India is a 100 per cent owned company of Conde Nast International a $ 2 billion publishing house. They will publish the first global title Vogue this year. "Some of the other titles in the offering and certainly relevant to India include Glamour, GQConde Nast Traveller, Vanity Fair, Wired and Brides," says Kuruvilla.

While excitement is rife over the number of unexplored markets niche magaziens can tap into, one genre that has made quiet inroads into the reader space is Auto Magazines.

Auto Magazines

Men's magazine were the flavor of the month last season. Maxim, M and Men's Healthlaunched last year nailing this belief. While the auto segment has traditionally been a strong player with magazines like Auto Monitor, Overdrive, Car and Bike and Autocar, the entrance of TopGear and Autocar Professionalhas given a huge fillip to this segment. India has become Asia's auto hub and the trend is not going unnoticed. Many auto magazine heads agree that the automotive industry is not just about flashy cars. India has an equally vibrant two wheeler- bike and scooter and heavy vehicles industry.

Porwal explains, "International magazines tend to cultivate particular brands or a special clientele even within advertisers. Some of these advertisers have entered India at the same time as the international magazines themselves and have a long standing, loyal base with them even in the European countries."

A look at the Tam Adex data for Sept 05 - August 06 compared to Sept 04 - August 05 shows that the auto genre has seen the highest growth in ad volumes at 48 per cent followed by men's magazines at 31 per cent. (See table)

The auto magazine ranks 6th according to the genres evaluated by Tam Adex just behind the other more popular categories.(See table)

Rank Magazine Genre Ad spends (in mn)
1 General Interest 3497
2 Women's 2002
3 Fashion, Ent &Lifestyle 1389
4 Biz & Fin 1102
5 Infotech 336
6 Auto 171
7 Career & Education 124
8 Travel 104
9 Men's 69
10 Media, Ad, Mktg 54
11 Sports 39
12 Scientific,Engg &Sci 36
13 Healthcare 29
14 Telecom 8
  Total 8960

Courtesy:Tam AdEx-Period:Sept '05-August '06 Ad spends based on industry estimates

The launch of luxury vehicles like the Rolls Royce would only be an added impetus. 

'Figuring' It Out

Take a look at the TAM AdEX figures for Sept 2005-Aug 2006 which show a 48 per cent growth in ad sales volume in the auto genre. Auto advertisers apart there are many lifestyle and luxury products who want to target the upmarket clientelle A definite thumbs up for the auto magazines who would be the top choice for many of these advertisers to reach across to their target group. (See table)

Genres Growth in %
Auto 48
Men's 31
Fashion, Ent, Lifestyle 29
Women's 29
General Interest 26
Business/Finance 21
Sports 11
Scientific, Engg, Science 10

Source: Tam Adex- Growth in Sep?05 ? Aug?06 compared to Sep?04 ? Aug?06

We spoke to two auto magazines - TopGear the newest player in the B2C segment and Auto Car Professional a B2B magazine.

Talking about the content of TopGear, editor Gautam Sen says, "The profile of the TG reader is almost 99 per cent male, upper class with an average age of around 31 years old and is usually from a multiple vehicles home. This is our core readership and our aim is to better understand and service this readership."

TG has been launched with an initial print run of 50,000 to 60,000 in subscription and newsstands, although Sen points out that "as for all magazines in India, the number of magazines occupying news stands is larger."

Comparing TG and TG UK he adds that TG UK "doesn't cover motorsport as much since there are further niche magazines in UK and Europe covering auto sports or even auto components. However, in India we haven't reached that level of segmentation so TGIndia focuses on this aspect due to reader interest."

He is, however, quick to point out that while the ratio of the local content is about 70:30, in terms of "brand, ethos and style" TGstays loyal to its international edition.

Auto Car Professional on the other hand acts as a "bridge between the suppliers and the customers", says editor Murali Gopalan. Haymarket publishers operate over 40 titles including Auto Car andAuto Car Professional.

Speaking about Haymarket's interest in India, Gopalan says, "The international publisher has certainly looked at a few key areas before entering this segment. The levels of spoken or written English, the media driven market, the free press, the buoyant economy and the synergy with publications have all led to a number of international publishers taking more than an interested look at this market."

While the target group for Auto Car Pro remains similar, the magazine is well aware of changing trends. "Since we are a B2B magazine, it does not mean that we are dull or unglamorous. In fact, we realized that the women today are just as interested in vehicles and are working on a 'Women's Day Special' issue come May."

So far so good. But many of the international titles available in the market range between Rs 70 to 100. So one of the factors that international titles will have to consider is the very sensitive price factor.

Says Tewari, "International titles like T3, which is a technology magazine is priced at Rs 100. So is Chip. But you have to take into account that a Chip magazine comes with a dual DVD pack and free licensed software that may not even be available in the country. So the price is justified by the value we provide. You cant compare a niche magazine with the free supplements you receive along with the papers. If something is free, the value is obviously lower."

Kuruvilla concurs when he says, "The brand awareness and brand salience of a product like Vogue is very high. So yes we are competitively priced. But then again we are not looking at mass numbers."

Vogue is priced at Rs 100 and is targeting the high spending community who, he maintains, spend as much on lifestyle as any other developed country.

Says Gopalan, "While I may be talking about the B2B model based on revenue, advertising and a very discerning clientele who is ready to pay for his piece of information, the pricing for all niche magazines follows a similar principle - the reader is paying for a high value international brand and not just any magazine."

In fact, this is the very change in perception that international publishers have brought to the magazine market. It is no longer about copies but brands.

Says Madison Media Group CEO Punita Arumugam, "The niche titles are not here in the game to sell in numbers. So don't expect the niche title to set targets like 5 million copies."

Many also argue that apart from high pricing, easy availability of information on the net may deter magazine readers. The question is indeed relevant in European markets where internet penetration and bandwidth is huge.

Says Sen, "The net provides one with relevant news. A magazine like Top Gear may not provide breaking stories regularly but we do provide topical stories. For instance, with the launch of Chevrolet Aveo U-VA we did provide opinion pieces on how it fared vis-a vis a Hyundai Getz. We also do interesting features like 'Cars of Tintin'- not exactly the kind of fare newspapers or the net can provide backed with research, analysis and some great looking visuals as well."

He adds "Besides the shelf life of a magazine is much higher and with niche magazines very often it becomes a habit and the aim is to get a reader to be loyal to the magazine. Many of our readers have been known to purchase and collect special issues of magazines as a collectors item."

Apart from web properties, many of the magazines align themselves to events. TopGear associates itself with the Design awards and also uses the Times Drive supplement to woo the newspaper reader and influence him to subscribe to the magazine. In fact, the Times has increased the number of supplement pages from 4 to 6.

Adds Arumugam, "Many of the titles coming into India are already established brands in most markets. I would imagine tha a magazine like Vogue doesn't really have to look at marketing itself. To the consumers they are targeting, they are already a known brand."


So what does the future scenario look like?

First up, its important to understand that readership and circulation figures are wrong yardsticks to measure niche magazines because in the first place, niche magazines are not really looking at mass circulation. While readership is more fluctuating for a B2C magazine, the loyal base for a B2B magazine is more pronounced. Given this contradiction, the niche segment itself is divided between these two categories.

On the other hand, for most international publishers, the costing factor in India is very attractive. Given the low cost of production and nominally high pricing on these niche magazines, publishers are looking at attractive margins.

Although Porwal cautions that while the advertising share of special interest magazines is likely to be around 5 to 7 per cent, readership figures for this niche segment are even lower. Yet, the market is just about warming up to this genre.

The Indian Magazine Congress held in November 2006 pointed out that the reach of magazines in UK stood at 83 per cent. By that yard stick, Indian magazines have a lot of growing to do from the present 30 per cent.

Another revealing figure stated that the UK market has more than 600 publishers for magazines, and in the US, the corresponding figure is more than 2,000. In India, even after so many years, 80 per cent of the advertising revenue in the entire magazine sector goes to only 17 magazines. And those 17 magazines belong to the top four or five categories. So, to that extent, all the other categories are underexploited.

While a better picture would emerge given correct evaluation for niche magazines, the magazines themselves need to continue giving deeper, credible information irrespective of the genre, and that would help continue writing their success story.

With increasing saturation of mainstream media, the niche segments will come into their own in the country. So far, the emphasis has been on achieving numbers which has resulted in a one-size-fits-all approach.

Says Tewari, "In the US there are over 3,000 to 4,000 niche magazines while in India there are barely about 100. The international trend is to satisfy the readers even within the highly fragmented niche genre. So within the auto sector, there will be more niche magazines like car modeling, vintage car magazines, car components? The talk is no longer about niche magazines but super niche magazine. This is the next step that publishers both domestic and international will have to take to generate more readership.

(Photo Courtesy: Landmark Bookstore, Infiniti Mall, Andheri (West)

Pictures by Nidhi Jain

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