Wednesday, 3 September, 2008

Bhupesh Trivedi on the upcoming Indian Magazine Congress

I received this morning as an intro to the Indian Media Observer email newsletter number 53 (http://www.indianmediaobserver.com/):
"IMO Commentary: A time to shake up
I hope the forthcoming Indian Magazine Congress deliberates on this: While the overall readership in India has grown by 15 per cent, the number of print titles has grown by over 200 per cent. Please let me stretch it further - while advertising spend in print publications has grown by 12 per cent, the number of print titles has grown by over 200 per cent. It is a great feeling to be a part of Indian media when there is euphoria all around, when the salaries of business managers and journalists are growing by 100%, when millions of foreign currency is queuing up to enter India, when it appears that print publishing is a sunshine industry, when the entire universe of print publishers knocks on the doors of the top 10 publishing houses for joint venture or licensing relationships. My apologies at the outset if I sound like a doomsayer, but an eery fact is that publishers could cut each others' throats in the marketplace while vying for their share of the ad pie. Readership has got fragmented, and so has advertising revenues. Just because the number of print titles has gone up by 200 per cent, advertisers are not upping their ad spends by 200 per cent. One does not need a comprehensive research or study to understand this phenomenon. There are two examples that I frequently quote at all international fora - the number of auto and women's magazines in India has grown from about 3 titles to almost 12-15 titles. Another dimension is of the rise in the number of English language titles in comparison with non-English language titles. If one were to look at the number of newer English language titles in India, s/he would probably feel that this country has overnight forgotten all its native languages. Has there been a corresponding rise in readership or advertising spends, to sustain these publications? And, with the Indian economy showing some signs of slowing down, its impact on ad spends by major advertisers will certainly be felt. For the experienced publishing professional, no guru is needed to tell her/him that the first business to take a hit in a slowing economy is advertising. The Indian media, more acutely the print publishing sector, has a series of challenges to deal with: 1. Major investments were made in licensing or joint venture deals or even in newer, owned titles during the euphoric days. Cost of operations, notably salaries, have gone up significantly. How to sustain? 2. Ad spends have got fragmented. In slowing economy, ad budgets will shrink. 3. Quality of content has taken a beating, while journalists with not-much experience take on the mantle of editors of publications. 4. B2B publishers have indeed got lured by B2C opportunities(?). Focus has shifted from B2B publishing to outsourcing and B2C. What happens to B2B publishing and what happens to B2C publishing? What happened to the age-old management mantra of sticking to one's core-competence? 5. Established magazine publishers now see a huge opportunity in custom (contract) publishing. Do we really acknowledge the fact that custom publishing suceeds at the cost of mainstream publishing? 6. There are just a couple of publishers who have really made sense of non-English language publishing. And, now, there does seem to be a change in how English-thinking media buyers and publishing CEOs have started perceiving the non-English reading audience. I hope every single publisher in the country does not make a beeline get into this. Another aspect is of home-grown titles. While most new home-grown titles are in non-Enlish languages, most of the newer English titles are licensed publications. 7. Another thing that I frequently talk about is how non-publishing companies like Google have become media giants of the world. There are several examples. Even internationally, there is no traditional publishing company which can boast of a world no. 1 idea in online or mobile publishing. Where traditional publishers are failing, everybody else is writing her/his success story. Indian publishers do not seem to have yet acknowledged the importance of technology as a medium. If they have, I assume it is a conscious decision to stay away. My apologies again, but I do say that most of the print publishers are "technologically-challenged". 8. Everybody acknowledges that India has almost 3000 towns, but major print distribution happens upto the top 20 towns. This is not only a challenge, but also a huge business opportunity to create a deep nation-wise press distribution business. 9. A comprehensive research, not just statistical, is the need of the hour. If one were to just study the top 200 magazines comprehensively, it could cost about Rs 25 lakh (about US $ 60,000). Can the Association of Indian Magazines (AIM) initiate such a study? - Bhupesh Trivedipublisher (at) chronosphere (dot) biz(To speak at ABM/FIPP conference in New York, Sept 7-9, 2008 and at Distripress Congress, Istanbul, October 27-30, 2008. Wanna meet?) "

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