New Delhi: One of the largest global media groups Time Inc. is planning an Indian version of Fortune, its venerable business magazine. Though the company says it hasn’t signed on the dotted line with any local media company, and won’t name potential partners, people familiar with the matter say slow-moving talks have been under way for several months with ABP Pvt. Ltd, the publisher of Businessworld magazine and The Telegraph newspaper. It is yet possible that the launch will be announced at the Fortune Global Forum, the magazine’s global business conference, scheduled for 29-31 October in the capital.
Indian media ownership laws remain very restrictive for foreign news and current affairs publications in terms of their ability to own and launch publications. On top of that, there are also significant advertising and content restrictions that make India a tough market to enter and navigate. Robert Friedman, Fortune’s international editor, is in New Delhi to promote the Forum. He told Mint that an Indian Fortune, similar to their Chinese and soon-to-be-launched Turkey editions, will be through a licensee model. Edited excerpts:
We have been hearing about Fortune’s imminent launch in India for some time. Is the Fortune Global Forum going to be the platform for the much-awaited announcement?
The magazine will be launched some time soon, but I cannot give any timeline. The forum hasn’t been organized to cut any deal. The idea behind the forum is to
highlight the importance of India as a destination for business and growth. We are bringing an impressive delegation with us, along with US treasury secretary Henry Paulson.
India vision: Fortune’s international editor Robert Friedman says India is important both as a story and as a future market to grow their brand.
As for the deal...we haven’t signed (on) the dotted line as yet. I am frustrated with the slowness of the process. There are business issues on both sides.
Where is the deal stuck? At the policy level or there are issues with partners?
Indian policy requires 80% of the content to be local. Ideally, we would like it to be 50:50. We hope to see if our partners can do something about this. But more than policy, we are not decided on the business model.
So are you seeking a change in the policy through your partners? And if the government doesn’t relent, would you drop India?
No, then that will result in coming up with a different business model. There is no dropping India. India is important to us both as a story and as a future market to grow our brand. We have been in India for 10 years through our Asian edition. We have a small circulation, but ?it’s profitable because we are at a high price point.
We will like to grow our presence. Global interest in India is increasing and vice-versa. We will like to be a part of the opportunity that the scenario presents.
Does the Web not seem interesting to you, specially because it doesn’t involve any such problems?
We are in talks with multiple partners for our Web operations. I can’t share much on that, but the Web is very much in the offing. It is definitely a great place for us to extend our brand.
But talking about the India growth story, has Fortune not been a little late in identifying it?
I don’t think we are late. The India story is still unfolding, it is an evolving story. Of course, we could have been here five years ago, but I think the level of interest multinational corporations has reached a tipping point only now, more recently. So, we are not too late.
Going by the increasing outsider interest in India, we think it is the right time for us to enter the market.
Also, from business point of view, the markets looks interesting now. The consumer market here is growing and so is advertising. Indians’ interest in global businesses in increasing and our brand has enough international cache that we can leverage.
Most of the CEOs and MNCs you have in your forum, have been present in India for some time. So, more than helping them discover India, it seems like a marketing initiative on Fortune’s part as it readies to enter the market.
I am not sure if that’s true. We have people coming in from different parts of the world, who I don’t think have explored India... There is a delegation of Chinese CEOs who wants to know more about India. There are many others, such as the CEO of MySpace.com, for whom India is a fresh place.
You have a full-fledged presence in China, whereas you don’t even have a bureau in India. Why did it take you so long to come to India?
Agreed, we have had a limited presence in India, but we have covered the market extensively through our own reporters and host of stringers. It is now we feel that we should have a larger presence. The Chinese edition has been there for 10 years and it is a licensed edition, but there, we were allowed to have more than 30% of our own global content. Even in Turkey, we will be allowed to have that much.
Did the small size of (Indian business magazines) market thwart the entry? If yes, do you think it is likely to change in the near future?
The market, as of now, could be small. But is going to grow. Mint is a good example of the untapped opportunity. There is room in India for a high-standard quality magazine to grow. I feel that a high-quality business magazine in India can become the leader or the second leader. The magazine with largest circulation in India will be around 100,000. So, let’s say even if we end up selling 50,000-60,000 copies, that will be good. Then, the class of business people wanting to read quality business publications is only increasing.
Indians are notorious for not wanting to pay for content. To grow, you might have to compromise on pricing. Are you ready for it?
Yes, we know that the market here is more aligned towards advertising. I think we can’t go against that trend. To reach a larger audience, we will be open to lower the pricing. But we will leave this issue to our partner to decide.