Luxury magazines have been immune to digital onslaught: Nicholas Coleridge

Nicholas Coleridge, president of Condé Nast International, says 65% of the revenue of Condé Nast India comes from print

Nicholas Coleridge, president, Condé Nast International.
Nicholas Coleridge, president, Condé Nast International.

Mumbai: Nicholas Coleridge, president of Condé Nast International, part of the group that publishes titles such as Vogue, GQ Condé Nast Traveller and Wired among others, is a fierce advocate of the publishing industry. And even though his enthusiasm has been tested by the onslaught of digital media in the last few years, Coleridge remains optimistic about the future of the industry.

In Mumbai to celebrate a successful decade of Condé Nast in India, he spoke about why glossy magazines have largely remained immune to changes in the media landscape, the importance of expanding the business beyond publishing and the impact of Brexit on the publishing industry. Edited excerpts:

How important is India as a market for you?

It’s been 10 years since we managed to persuade Alex Kuruvilla to join us and it’s been 8.5 years since Vogue was published as our first title here. The company went profitable at the direct level three years after it was launched. And it’s been fully profitable for the last five years. How does this compare with our expectation? Honestly, we thought it could take much longer. We were a latecomer, with Elle, Marie Clarie, L’Officiel all present in the market.

But we have one great advantage: Condé Nast wholly owns the company here. We don’t have any partners, joint ventures or licence arrangement. What that actually means is that we don’t have to work with another company and take their views, their caution or bent of thinking.

Nicholas Coleridge, 59Coleridge is a man of many interests. He chairs the Victoria and Albert Museum as well as HRH The Prince of Wales’ Campaign for Wool. He has been a member of the Council of the Royal College of Art, and director of PressBoF, the parent organization of the Press Complaints Commission. Best-known for ‘Paper Tigers’, his treatise on newspaper barons, he has authored 12 books, both fiction and non-fiction. These include ‘A Much Married Man’, ‘Deadly Sins’ and ‘The Fashion Conspiracy’, among others.

I hope this won’t sound like bragging, but with the four print magazines we have brought here, each one is taking well over 70% of the advertising revenue for its sector. In other words, Vogue (print run 60,000) takes 70% of the revenue of the whole fashion, lifestyle, luxury area. In that we include Elle, Harper’s Bazaar and L’Officiel. GQ (print run 40,000) is in the same fortunate position in men’s area where we are up against Man’s World (now MW), FHM, Men’s Health, etc. Condé Nast Traveller (print run 38,000) despite publishing only six times a year is now the market leader in terms of advertising and overtook Lonely Planet in volume very recently.

Architectural Digest (print run 20,000) has just overtaken Elle Decor, which was previously the market leader. So, it’s been an incredibly good gig. Each of the four magazines in India are growing in advertising pages, and in revenue, this is quite rare around the world right now.

We thought India would be important, but it’s proving to be even more important. 65% of the revenue of Condé Nast India comes from print, and 35% comes from events and digital and the long tail of very interesting, exclusive-to-India projects and ventures, such as the Vogue Wedding Show. It’s a gently growing print business, and a digital business which is taking off like a rocket.

Will you launch new titles in this market, especially, ‘Wired’?

There are a number of titles that could work here. Probably, at some point, we will do something in the Wired space but it will most certainly be a digital-first proposition, with events. We have launched Wired outside of America, in Europe and Japan. It has done best when we have put up huge Wired conferences and have an extremely lively, frequently updated website.

We do print as well. In Britain, for instance, it’s one-third, one-third, one-third between events, digital and print. And my guess is, when and if Wired is launched here, it will be digital first. In UK, Wired sells 65,000 copies. In America, it sells one million copies.

Is the online readership for your titles higher than the readership for print?

If you compare the unique users of our close to 100 websites, versus the readers for our more than 100 magazines, there are more unique users on digital. The difference, of course, is that the level of absorption in the magazine at the moment remains higher. If someone pays £5 to buy something, they tend to spend a long time on it.

Does digital content work behind paywalls?

At Condé Nast International, 16% of the revenue comes from digital. None of us, and I mean the greater world of media, has solved the paywall question. With the Condé Nast brands, we are finding that if we can deliver to advertisers a very appropriate readership online, they are happy and very eager to advertise to that group.

If I was running The Economist or The Financial Times, I may feel very differently. In the lifestyle sector, the advertising model is working very well. In India, we’ve seen encouraging signs. Over the last year, not only has our traffic doubled, but so has our revenue online. Our print and digital business is profitable.

Experts said that the digital onslaught would sound the death knell for print. Are your luxury magazines immune to it?

The very first magazine conference I went to, when I was probably just 30 years old or something, an expert stood up and gave us a lecture about how the printed magazine was an endangered species. The reality is that they are very enduring because they are very difficult to replicate. You can get the information off an iPad and sometimes that is quite satisfactory, but actually there is a huge element of treat about reading a printed magazine.

The beauty of the way the ink sits on glossy paper. It’s very modern, you don’t need Wi-Fi, you don’t need to be connected, you can read them in the bath without being electrocuted and they have an incredibly long battery life—forever.

Generally, that feeling when you buy a new glossy, and hold it up to your nose and get this marvellous smell of printed paper is very attractive and very conducive, and works very well for the luxury world. So, the Vogues of the world have grown dramatically in the last quarter of the century and this is true of every market they are in. GQ has grown, Vanity Fair has done well.

The areas that have been badly battered have been the weekly magazines and the second-rate magazines. Some of the news magazines have been overtaken by the speed with which we receive digital news. But glossies have been protected to a much greater extent than almost any other part of publishing today.

What impact will Brexit have on the publishing business?

The story is moving so fast. Personally, I voted to remain inside the European Union and I’m sorry that we’ve voted to come out of it. It was the closest possible vote, and hasn’t yet been ratified by the members of parliament. So I don’t think this story has ended yet. Personally, I am a little sad about it, but the stock market, which fell quite sharply, has now recovered much of its loss and is back to where it was prior to the referendum.

There will now be a two-year, painstaking negotiation with the European Union about what our new trade terms will be. It’s terribly hard to read (in terms of impact). It doesn’t look at the moment like Britain is going to be pushed into recession.

You have to remember that Britain is the fifth largest economy in the world, in or out of the EU. It’s an enormous consumer of luxury goods and it’s always been a very buoyant publishing country. Luxury goods companies have a lot of shops in London. And beyond being the capital of Britain, London, in curious ways, is a world capital for a lot of people. It’s the second home nirvana for India, Russia, China, Italy and France. A lot of people love coming here. So, I’m quite optimistic.

More From Livemint