It has been almost four decades since Tony Elliott, founder and chairman of the Time Out Group Ltd, used a birthday gift to start what has become a niche global publishing business that focuses on city magazines. Elliott is in India to celebrate the third anniversary of the group’s first Indian magazine, Time Out Mumbai.
A fortnightly that sells 60,000 copies, Time Out Mumbai has since expanded, starting earlier this year in New Delhi with Time Out Delhi and with plans to head to Bangalore soon.
Elliott chose the name from the title of a 1959 album by the Dave Brubeck Quartet and, today, the magazine has made a name for itself for its independent reviews and honest critiques of cultural, artistic and other city events.
Elliott’s licence model now runs magazines in more than 35 cities, with flagship publications in London and New York. Elliott, accompanied by Smiti Ruia, chairperson of Paprika Media Pvt. Ltd, which publishes the Indian magazines, sat with Mint, which also has an exclusive content partnership with Time Out magazines in India. Edited excerpts:
How do the Time Out editions in India compare to those globally?
What’s really good about Time Out on an international basis is that each magazine is very different, that it is entirely created by local people for the local market, which is unlike other magazines such as Playboy and Maxim, so there is very little content that comes from the American or English Time Out.
Elliott is here for the third anniversary of Time Out Mumbai, the group’s first Indian magazine
It will only work if the local content is good, right? So when you look at the magazine here and in New Delhi, you get a real insight into what is going on in the city. The actual quality of work here is fantastic and is one of the very best international titles we have that is trouble free.
What is your revenue model globally?
In England and America, it is roughly based on the 70:30 ratio, with 70% or 60% being advertising and the rest from circulation. We get less money in America because you’re probably aware of the ludicrous things where you pay $10 (Rs397) for an annual subscription to Vogue, or $20 for a subscription to Time Out in New York and my circulation department is always asking me “Tony can’t you cut the price?” But there is no denying that all the magazines are wholly dependent on getting most of their income from advertising. And I don’t want to say that getting advertising is easy, but the structure is such that you are not wholly dependent on brand or international advertising, which a lot of magazines are.
Ruia: It (Time Out) started out with a lot more national advertising than local, we had access to the Time Out network, so if you had a credit card company advertising with Time Out, whether it’s in Istanbul or New York, you get the benefit of that in India. You can go to their local company. Recognition of the brand among the influencing group helps. Now, even retailers have stepped up their advertising because of the response rate. Our editorial policy is very strong, so we never mix our content with advertising. Yet, at the same time, we are well aware that advertising adds to the flavour of the magazine.
What makes a city sexy for Time Out?
We don’t decide, I must emphasize that (Time Out usually gets approached by other publishers). It is about to launch in Sydney. We really, really wanted to be there and it took us a long time to find somebody, due to some issues to do with free papers and existing magazines. My personal acid test of any place that I go to is live music and it is also my acid test for any publication that says that it does listings.
Time Out is going to launch in Bangalore soon. Which other Indian cities are next?
Ruia: There are a couple of cities on the radar. The next halt for us would be Bangalore and then planning Hyderabad, and sometime in the future Kolkata. We are also planning to have satellite issues in mini metros such as Pune, Goa and Chandigarh. We have one in Jaipur, for the last two years, which very few people know about. We got a very good response on that. It comes out every two months and is really about Rajasthan.
The online format lends itself so nicely to this kind of content. What are your plans in this space?
In a sense, Time Out is really one big database that goes into print, it has listings that can go online. And this format does allow you to do things editorially, which you can’t really do in print. So things such as blogs—you really wouldn’t want to read a magazine with long personalized diarist effects. The area that is fascinating is the whole user-generated content factor, where readers become information suppliers by some description, giving you commentary on places or telling you about places that you didn’t know existed. So, we are hugely optimistic about the online media and absolutely don’t see it as a threat. In fact, it is the reverse, it’s a major opportunity.
What is the natural expansion plan for Time Out?
We want as many international partners and local editions as is viable. A weekly magazine was launched in Lisbon, there is going to be weekly magazine in Barcelona, a weekly magazine in Sydney. If you had asked me that question a year ago, we would never have even known that was a possibility. There is a momentum that builds up, so the more magazines there are, the more magazines that will happen. Soon after we launched in Singapore, we had requests from the Philippines, so that will happen. The online structure will grow and reach audiences in countries that do not have Time Outs or buy Time Out guides because they don’t speak English. We will do some cities in America online first, and then look at a print intervention if that works, instead of just charging in. Partly because American cities are unbelievably expensive to do. The investments could be to the tune of $50 million.