Analysing the magazine business in India

We are all familiar with magazines. Growing up, we all had a favourite magazine whose next edition we eagerly awaited. Magazine literally means a collection or a storage space. So the name comes from the fact that a magazine is a collection of written articles. These articles depend on what the magazine has to offer to its readers. There is a wide variety of categories under which magazines are published and each of these categories have their own set of users. Some of the popular categories are listed below

Auto MagazinesBusiness MagazinesChildren’s Magazines
Computers & Electronics magazinesFood & beverage magazinesEntertainment & TV magazines
Fashion and Style
Health and fitness magazinesNews and Politics
Sports magazinesTravel MagazinesWomen’s Magazines

Magazine Business in India: The History of Print

When Johannes Gutenberg invented printing press in the year 1440, humanity witnesses its first wave of printing revolution. No one could have, at that time, understood how significant this discovery would be in shaping the course of our future. Not only is the advent of printing press believed to be a key factors which brought about Renaissance, it is also credited with contributions to scientific revolution and the age of enlightenment. As technology advanced, we moved from woodblock printing, to modern day printing on to printing press. And now, we have come to a time where we might, in our lifetime, get to see the print business completely shut down.

Ironically print media is nearing its end at a time when information sharing is at its peak! But during its peak, print business shaped humanity in ways as fundamental as fire and wheel. Newspapers and Magazines have been credited with saving nations to starting wars while print advertisements have decided fates of many a companies. In India, it is believed, that the first printing press was brought by the Portuguese via Goa in the year 1556, for the purpose of helping missionary work.

Books printed in India

The first book to be printed in India was Conclusões e outras coisas in the year 1556 CE (cc Prasanna Sivakumar). The first book to be printed in India, in an Indian language, was tampirAn vaNakkam(தம்பிரான் வணக்கம்) in 1578, a 16-page translation of the Portuguese “Doctrina Christam”. The first book printed in an Indian language was Cartilha, Germano Galhadro, printed in Lisbon in 1554 in Lingua Malabar Tamul, a dialect of Tamil spoken in the coastal regions of Malabar in Kerala.

Newspapers and Magazines in India

Hickey’s Bengal Gazette was the fist major newspaper which started publishing in 1780, in Calcutta (now Kolkata). The first periodical founded and edited by an Indian was the Hindustan Review, which commenced in 1900. The first magazine was printed in India in the year 1785 by the British. It was called The oriental magazine or Calcutta Amusement and was founded by Gordon and John Hay. It was published for four years before mounting political pressure forced it to shut down in 1789.

If you want to learn more about how print media evolved in India, read our blog History and Evolution of print media in India

Magazine Business in India: Invent of online content

In the last decade internet access has improved drastically. Areas which were once considered remote due to lack of connectivity are are now abreast with the events all over the world. And it is not just the geographical barrier that has been broken, the ‘inaccessible people’, the important ones, ones who are spearheading humanity to new avenues and possibilities, whose opinion people were eager to learn about, are now available for comments. They can be ‘followed’ to learn about their day to day activities. In such times, the appeal of magazines, which come out only after a month, is waning.

Most magazines now have online presence as well where they post more regularly because that is what the modern user wants and needs. They are also publishing E-Magazines, which is online version of their offline magazines. A magazine though, is still very different from a newspaper. A newspaper keeps you updated with the recent events whereas magazines have always been about analysing events that happened in hindsight and predicting the impact on the future. A newspaper has only one dedicated section, the editorial, which is not just reporting events, but views of an eminent personality about the recent events. A magazine is a dedicated unit for just that.

So, even as the world paces up and the updates become more regular, magazines will still find a place among users who want a deeper understanding of the events happening around them.

Magazine Business in India: Present day

Magazine business is facing competition from a lot of channels other than the online content which is its most obvious competitor. Newspapers, for example have started publishing weekly supplements some of which are quite popular with the readers. ‘Brunch‘, a weekly supplement by Hindustan Times is one such example. Positioned as a lifestyle magazine, the supplement covers areas like food, popular tourist destinations, news about upcoming events etc. 

Another threat to magazine business is the new genre of TV channels which are coming up. Now, one can find channels which are dedicated to segments like sports, automobiles, fashion, travel, food etc. With a continuous feed of dedicated content available, people are very likely to choose viewing these channels over reading a magazine. The easing of consuming content via a screen with narration makes TV a much more comfortable option as compared to reading a magazine. Newspapers like Economic Times have also stepped in to the domain with their own news channel ET Now

In 2008 Indian government unveiled a new set of guidelines which allowed Indian edition of foreign magazines to be published with 26 percent FDI as long as all the key positions were held by Indians. This has made it difficult for the upcoming domestic players as the standards they have to meet have been raised to international standards. This has resulted in more magazines getting printed in local languages.

Magazine Business in India: Revenue sources

One of the key revenue sources for magazines has always been through advertisement; print ads to be more specific. These ads can be classified into categories, the simplest of which is Banner Ads, which is a simple add which you print in your magazine. A more advanced version of these ads are called Native Ads, here the magazine advertises for a brand, but it is done in a manner, where it does not seem like an advertisement, but rather another article of the magazine. Classified ads is another source of revenue, but it is not as sizeable since magazines are typically a monthly affair and requirements are time sensitive.

Though we see (in the graph below) that the fraction of revenue that comes from advertisements is slowly dropping, overall it still remains the biggest chunk of revenue. What we also notice is that though E-Newsletters are slowly becoming non profitable (as a standalone product), because they are published for free in most cases, but the ad revenue from them is still a sizeable amount when we see the fraction of revenue that comes from them.

Magazine Business Revenue: Revenue from ads has stayed consistent indicating that companies still consider magazines to be the best way to target users

Events is again a major source of revenue especially when we look at the B2B segment. For some time now magazines have been actively organising events relevant to their segment. These events are either completely independent and thus require one to purchase a ticket or sometimes, like in case of an extremely successful trial by ‘The Guardian’ in 2016, these events could be part of subscription. 

Branded content is the buzzword these days. Most magazines have entered into creating branded content after realising that the advertisers, who are their customers, are becoming a competition through this segment. The best example of a successful branded campaign launched by a brand, is the ‘Beauty sketch campaign‘ launched by Dove, where an artist makes a sketch of a woman as described by herself, without looking at her. Then the artist draws another sketch of the same woman based on description by a stranger who met her for a short time. At the end the woman is shown both the sketches and she realises how her perception of herself (which is not very positive) is very different from how others see her.

In terms of absolute numbers, we see that even though the competition magazines face is immense, their share of revenue from the total advertisement business has not decreased much. Internet has eaten in to the share of TV and Print media, mainly because magazines are still the best way to target a specific segment, whereas Print and TV media still focus mainly on impressions. But as the user data is becoming more and more public, internet is soon going to take up a major share of targeted advertisements.

Ad IndustryRevenue
Magazine Business: Though advertising is considered a key source of revenue, most experts say that nothing is more valuable than quality content

Magazine Business in India: What data says

Here we look at some keen observations that can be made about the business looking at the data. As far fas cost of distribution is concerned, it is such a major chunk that anyone who looks as this factor would find it hard to understand why everyone has not already moved on to the digital medium.

magazine business in India still finds distribution to be the biggest cost involved in offline business
Magazine Business in India: Distribution still remains one of the biggest cost in offline magazines; the cost can be cut into half just by going online

Magazine Business in India: What is the future?

Most experts believe that the future of magazines is digital. Though the transformation will be slow because most people who read magazines, young or old, still have a predilection towards print. Another thing about print is that you do not have to care about running out of power or digital compatibility. As the software tools get more diverse, there are often unforeseeable issues with loading a document on any given device. Though all hardware and software companies are working towards ensuring that such problems do not occur, there is an inherent challenge here. Technology itself is changing at such a rate that it is difficult to keep track of, even for tech firms. They can not miss out on upgrading to the latest technology but that often means that they have to stop supporting the older versions. This means that accessibility to archives can be a huge issue for the user because the platform their device uses might stop supporting some of the features used in earlier editions.

Another challenge that digital medium faces is the decreasing attention span of the user. The problem is same with print media as well, but on a device one gets such frequent notifications that it is almost impossible to give your undivided attention to the content one is consuming. This could affect the users experience and in return give them an impression that the content is not engaging. 

A very similar challenge for digital medium is that the new age users are so acclimated to information being delivered at a much faster rate through videos, that when they are consuming digital content, they expect standards which written content can never meet. So for a digital magazine, the content has to be in the for of infographics or videos intermittent with words which requires a larger workforce and a lot more effort to create.So even though future seems to belong to digital media, printed magazines may still have a long time before people stop using them.

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