The new office for Vogue India , at Ballard Estate here, looks every bit of the high-fashion hangout it is supposed to be. Reporters, many of whom look like the supermodels they will write about in the magazine, dash across the newsroom amid a generous sprinkling of fashion goodies that women covet. As the much anticipated 21 September launch date for Vogue magazine’s India version draws closer, tucked away in his cabin with a view of Port Trust land, Alex Kuruvilla, managing director, Condé Nast India Pvt. Ltd, is a rather busy man. He took time out to speak with Mint about the magazine and the publishing company’s strategy in India. Edited excerpts:
Why has it taken Condé Nast so many years to bring Vogue to India?
Condé Nast has been looking at the Indian market for a while now. Typically, when Vogue enters a market, it signals that the market has, in a sense, arrived—at least from a luxury and fashion point of view. A good case in point is that Condé Nast and Vogue chose to enter China only in 2005. We’re not the kind of people who rush into new markets and look for first-move advantage. In fact, we like to refer to our competitor’s move as first-move disadvantage. Because they moved here when regulations did not allow foreign direct investment in the publishing space, all of them are licensed brands. At best, they may be minority stake holders. So, if you don’t own it, you won’t invest in it. It’s a vicious cycle.
The second problem is that not all the big luxury players are here yet. Even the ones that are here are sitting on very small businesses. So people who came in 10 years ago, like our competitors, were forced to mainstream their brands and business. When you couple with that low investment, it means that editorial content and production values are pretty low. To top that, you have to build a business so you go after advertising that is more mass than you would in any other market. So the product ends up being a very generic, ‘me too’ product.
In a sense our timing has been right. It’s a bit of a cliché—about strong economic growth, and reports on the number of millionaires being added on each year—(but) there is a germ of truth in that. That is driving growth of the affluent set, which, in turn, will drive the consumption of luxury brands and that is where we are poised.
What other titles will Condé Nast look at bringing in?
Vogue was the easy one since that is our flagship brand. But, the group has 120 titles so you can imagine how hard it is for us to choose. Given, again the market, a lot of these titles are becoming relevant now. Glamour is a very successful brand across the world, it is appropriate at this point, as it is for a younger audience.
The men’s market is really hotting up. A lot of luxury brands in India are realizing that their men’s lines are doing much better than their women’s lines. Similarly with watches, leather goods, etcetera. So a GQ would do well in this market.
Architectural Digest is another interesting product. With this explosion of real estate and luxury homes, there are people who are interested in doing up their homes, buying high-end goods for their houses. Vanity Fair is another popular brand. But, we don’t want to rush into anything. Condé Nast is a patient company, which likes to do it right, rather than in a hurry.
We’re just putting together a world class team. Our managing editor Laura Silverman is from New York, our booking chief is from New York, our copy chief is from London. Anaita Shroff Adajania, our fashion director, is one of the best stylists in India, Bandana Tewari is our fashion features editor, Sameer Reddy comes from New York to be our features editor—he used to own a Sushi Bar, and has a passion for vintage couture.
Our publishing team has one person from Australia, another from Chicago, all of who are young Indians who have grown up there and want to come back. Our marketing director is from Procter & Gamble Co., Iona Fergusson, our photo editor, is from the hills in Himachal.
So we’ve got an eclectic mix of people, who we think can add value to the product.
Who is your target audience and what are your distribution plans?
There are a million homes in India earning more than $100,000 (about Rs41 lakh) today. These million homes represent a million women who are potential buyers of luxury goods—could be high-end watches, clothes, accessories, cars. Our research shows that the highest circulating magazine of 10 years existence is selling 20,000 copies. So the point is, where are the 980,000 women getting their information from? I suspect a lot of it would be from international magazines, international television channels such as lifestyle channels, Internet sites such as vogue.com, shopping sites and information from friends and family. Those 980,000 women are the sub-set we are looking at, and Vogue hopes to secure at least 250,000 readers.
Considering four to five readers per copy, we expect to have a print run of 50,000 copies. But, this is a real 50,000. In fact, we have invited our business associates to come visit our printing press, have a glass of wine, and see the print run for themselves.
We have partnered withIndia Today on distribution. The distribution environment is a big challenge for magazines as it works on the street; not necessarily the best environment for a luxury brand. However, things are changing. With the retail boom, we are seeing more Crosswords, Oxfords, Landmarks coming up. Even media marts at airports, stations, malls, retail outlets, which are also places our readers are likely to frequent.
What is the initial investment, and how soon do you hope to break even—given that the Chinese Vogue is said to have broken even in the first year?
The scale of the Chinese model is much bigger, their ad rates are higher. However, our business model will be as financially viable as theirs.
Current players may be investing $5,000-10,000 on marketing, we would be spending a couple of million dollars. Our content investment is approximately 10-12 times more per page than our nearest competitors. This is after havingaccess to all the Condé Nast publications.
Where does this money go? Worldclass photographers, flying some of the world’s supermodels to shoot in India, research, etcetera. This is a company that is passionate about, and obsessed with, editorial excellence. I’m confident we won’t be too far behind China as far as our break-even period is concerned. In year one, our back of the envelope calculations suggests, we will have 55-60% of all the fashion magazines put together in India.
The fashion industry in India is not as developed as it is overseas. How will you generate original local content?
I don’t think the intention is to be original for the sake of being original. It is about quality, and about doing it better than anyone else. This is not rocket science.
We will be analyzing trends and making predictions. Vogue is not just about fashion, it is also about beauty. So you have cosmetics, hair, skin, make-up trends, the works. Food, travel, art, books, music, people, culture and society.
Traditionally, Vogue has been known for its superior quality of fashion photographs. How will you manage that in India?
We don’t operate in isolation, we are a part of a huge international network. So we will use international talent, but we are very excited about using Indian talent.
Vogue has been known to launch new designers, models, and even break new restaurants. It all comes down to the credibility and authority. If you do your homework, people will listen to what you have to say, especially, if you are offering meaningful insights.
What is your marketing and advertising strategy?
We aren’t going to be different for the sake of being different. There is this tendency to over-intellectualize things and I’m going to avoid that temptation. The beauty of this business is in its simplicity. You have to focus on your product. Why aren’t women rushing out to buy fashion magazines anymore? It’s because these products are just not sexy anymore. It is our job to bring that sizzle back into the magazine. And, the sizzle is not what’s around the magazine (advertising campaign) but what’s in it.
We put together our plans and sold the story of what we’re doing. And the response got from advertisers has been phenomenal. You will see that in our first issue... a showcase of some of the best brands in the world, and in India, coming in to support us. Brands such as Vogue are a sort of a cult. It’s a rare advantage to have, but we are coming with 100% brand awareness among our target audience in a new market. In some of our research, people called Vogue the “fashion bible”. Though not unexpected, it was a pleasant surprise. I think our timing has been spot-on. Of course, movies like The Devil Wears Prada and television serials such as Ugly Betty (set in a fashion magazine) only help raise awareness. Questions about the brand have been answered over the last 100 years. Our job now is, fundamentally, to meet the high expectations.
What are the ad rates for Vogue?
$10,000 for a page.