In a candid interview with Noor Fathima Warsia, Consulting Editor of Pitch, Tarun Rai, CEO, Worldwide Media and President of AIM (The Association of Indian Magazines, talks about the issues, the magazine industry is facing and how AIM is trying to overcome them. Excerpts:
AIM has played a key role in binding the magazine industry together and in tackling issues such as measurement, the way forward for the business and so on. What are some of the key areas of focus for AIM in 2012?
There has been a lot of action in the magazine industry in the last few years. Many international publishers have launched their titles in India. These titles are in spaces of news, business as well as lifestyle and special interest. Local publishers have also launched new titles as well as language editions of English titles. The move to digital and mobile devices has been another area where magazines have been active. And many of these launches have been very high profile. With so much action, the magazine industry is going through a very exciting phase. However, the profile of our industry is still lagging behind. Therefore, one of the areas of focus for me is to raise the profile of the magazine industry. We deserve more attention from media planners and advertisers and a higher profile will also attract better talent to our business.
The other very important area we will be focusing on is qualitative strength of the magazine media. While there have been so many changes in the media environment and so many new media options have emerged, the measurement of media continues to be only quantitative and numbers oriented. It is still only about number of readers and viewers. It is strange that measurement continues to be on the quantity of audience and not on the quality of audience reached. And the interaction of the message and the audience is completely ignored. We want to change the conversation and move it from just numbers to the quality of audience reached. We want to change the conversation from just reaching the message to the audience to a conversation about what the audience does with the message? What is the quality of the interaction of the medium with its audience? How do different media engage with the audience? Magazines deliver both a sharply targeted audience and an engaged audience. We want to take this message across to advertisers and media planners aggressively this year.
The third area of focus will be on expanding the activities of AIM and include training for our members and their staff. In a fast changing technological environment skill up-gradation is critical. We are planning a series of workshops and seminars in various cities towards this end.
What are some of the key challenges that lie ahead of the magazine industry at present?
Proper measurement metrics continues to be a big challenge. While we are trying to change the conversation to the quality of audience and their interaction with the medium we are also working with other measurement bodies to make magazines more representative in their samples. The other big challenge for our industry continues to be in the area of retailing. The retail infrastructure for magazines is inadequate and makes it difficult to reach quality content to our readers. And the third challenge, or should I say opportunity, is in exploiting the digital space. While digital enables our content to reach out to a much larger audience the business models around digital are still not robust. The initial demand for digital magazines for downloads on tablets, however, is very encouraging.
What does AIM do to assist the smaller magazine publishers to survive the tough media business in India?
The initiatives of AIM benefit all magazine publishers – big, small and medium. From lobbying the government to creating platforms for training as also raising the profile of our industry helps all publishers. Even the recent World Magazine Congress that we organized in New Delhi provided an opportunity to small and medium publishers to meet and interact with the world’s magazine fraternity.
Please tell us more on the Engagement Study announced at the World Magazine Congress in October 2011? By when can more be expected on this and how do you see this impact the magazine business in India?
This is our biggest initiative this year. We have worked very hard on this for the past few months. We commissioned two independent research agencies, Quantum and IMRB, to conduct a massive research across ten cities and with 3,600 people to test out various hypotheses around the strength of the magazine medium as compared to other media. The findings were very revealing and corroborated our belief that magazines are the most engaging of all media. I presented the top-line findings at the World Magazine Congress in the form of an AV to a fantastic reception. We decided that we need to take these research findings to advertisers and media planners and we commissioned DDB Mudra to develop an entire take-to-market communication package. The campaign titled Magazines – Engage, Connect, Work is ready.
Measurement has been a core issue for magazine publishers for some time now. Until the new avatar of IRS is here, how are magazine publishers dealing with this challenge?
Yes, measurement continues to be a challenge for the magazine industry. We are tackling this by taking the research findings on the strength of the magazine medium in the form of a comprehensive communication package to advertisers and media planners. We are hoping to change the conversation from just numbers to the quality of the engagement with the medium and the message. And we continue to work with IRS to make magazine measurement more robust and representative.
Do you think advertisers continue to look at magazines as a medium of engagement? Are magazines publishers doing enough to retain advertiser attention in the magazine?
I believe our industry deserves more attention from advertisers. And yes, we can do more to get their attention. Our aim is to raise the profile of our industry and we are focusing on it this year. Magazines are a powerful medium and the most engaging. We will be taking this message across to advertisers and media planners based on the findings of the Engagement Survey we had commissioned.
Digital was a perceived threat for magazines, but it is now seen as a magazine publisher’s best friend. Do you think magazines in India are
doing enough to leverage digital?
Threat or an opportunity, the march of technology is inevitable. Whether we convert new technology into an opportunity is up to us. Quite clearly, the mobile devices have enabled us to reach our content to a new audience. And to an audience that is willing to pay for the content. It is a great way to side step the infrastructure hurdles we face in retail. It also re-emphasizes what we all know – that we are in the business of quality, branded content for communities with similar interests. We are not in the business of paper and ink. However, the business models around advertising revenue still need to be worked out. There is a long way to go before we can say we have genuinely been able to leverage the digital opportunity. But the signs are positive and very encouraging.
The magazine industry has seen intense increase in competition in the last three years with various new titles – national and international – coming in play. What is the impact of this on the business? Has this led to any further challenges for the industry?
The magazine industry in India is passing through very interesting times. The very fact that international magazine publishers are launching new titles here means that they view India as big opportunity. That is good for us. While it means more competition it also means that the combined activity of all these new players will only help raise the decibel levels for the magazine industry. It will help raise the industry’s profile. And that is good for us. International competition is also good as it helps raise the bar for the entire industry. And I have said it earlier, certain spaces like the lifestyle and special interest magazines, are the sunrise sectors of Indian media. These spaces are, as yet, very small and there is a lot of room for growth.
Magazines were a medium of choice for young talent once upon a time. That has changed with so many other newer media coming up. How is the magazine industry attracting quality talent?
Surprisingly, there is a reverse movement to magazines. Young talent from other media, including TV, is coming back to us. Over the last couple of years we have hired more than a few from other media. But attracting young talent is still an issue and one of the reasons I believe we have to raise our industry’s profile is to attract young talent. For young people magazines provide exciting opportunities and with magazines becoming multi-platform and going digital the opportunities for young people are only expanding.