Chennai: Globally, sales of magazines have plummeted and readership has waned over the last couple of years, but New York-based software developers Girish Ramdas and Vijayakumar Radhakrishnan have turned the bleak situation to their advantage by using technology.
In 2009, Ramdas and Radhakrishnan, who were based in Chennai at the time, decided to develop a software which will make it easy to access and read magazines on a tablet or smart phone—with just a tap. Two years later, Magzter, a digital store was born in Chennai offering 35 magazines.
Currently Magzter Inc. is one of the largest and fastest growing cross-platform digital stores with over 21 million readers, over 4,500 magazines and thousands of books and comic titles from over 1,500 publishers.
In 2002, Ramdas used to run a Chennai-based software company, Dot Com Infoway (DCI) for which Radhakrishnan’s company NTS used to provide services. Three years later, they merged their companies and Radhakrishnan became its chief technology officer. The new company was called DCI.
In 2008, while attending an Apple Inc. event on application platforms in Bengaluru, the duo decided to take a serious look at the opportunities offered by application platforms. They set up a new division of the merged company called DCI Mobile Studios. Their innovations included apps for buying music put out by Sony and for accessing Indian Premier League cricket matches. DCI Mobile studios was recognized for its content-based apps and was the market leader in mobile app creation in India, said Radhakrishnan.
A year later, DCI, which had a digital southern Indian movie magazine app called “Galatta Cinema”, launched an application to make the magazine accessible by non-residents Indians on their smartphones.
“Suddenly, it fell in place—why not create an application for tablets and smart phones to read all types of magazines and comics?” said Ramdas. The idea came to the co-founders while they were jogging one morning.
They immediately started working on the application with the DCI team in 2010. Two versions of Magzter had to be junked before the third and final version was launched in June 2011. The app is called OREY Click Publishing System. The term OREY, which means ‘one’ in Tamil, stands for One-click Real-time Everywhere.
Digital publishing platforms and news-stands are inexpensive to set up, with few overheads and no printing or delivery costs. This is hugely beneficial to small publishers and new authors threatened by the arrival of digital content, said Ramdas.
Magzter also provides the ideal platform for publishers who do not have the capital for a conventional printing set-up, but want to publish their content digitally, as well as for publishers of exclusive digital books, he added.
Instant access to diverse content—magazines and books—is Magzter’s main attraction. It has placed itself in a position where it can be easily reached any time and from anywhere. The Magzter digital news-stand can be downloaded for free as a mobile app for iOS, Android and Windows 8 and on the Internet for computers.
In 2012 Magzter became the number one free app in Apple’s app store for iPad in Asia.
However, the journey has not been without its challenges—convincing publishers from across the world to come on board was the biggest, said Ramdas. “We persevered by offering them a model where there is no upfront cost whatsoever to the publisher when he uploads his content on Magzter,” added Radhakrishnan. They only need to pay on sales and subscriptions.
Magzter’s zero upfront fee policy and revenue share model encouraged publishers to opt for the digital route.
Following an initial internal investment by the founding team, the first external funding of $13 million came from Series A and B investors in January 2012.
“We never had issues raising capital, as investors are keen to invest in businesses that are scalable and Magzter was getting traction as it added more than 7,50,000 new users every month since it was launched,” said Radhakrishnan.
Mint has a strategic partnership with Digital Empowerment Foundation, which hosts the Manthan Awards.