Mumbai: As two imperfect but important readership surveys battle it out to be the best gauge of who exactly reads India’s mushrooming print publications, the magazine industry wants to have its own survey.
The Association of Indian Magazines (AIM), which represents interests of magazine publishers, plans its own readership survey and has set up an internal panel to push the proposal, according to people close to the development.
DECLINING POPULARITY? (Graphic)
This is because the growing tribe of Indian magazine publishers is unhappy with National Readership Survey, or NRS, and the Indian Readership Survey, or IRS, complaining that those two are geared toward capturing newspaper readership trends.
Magazine publishers have long had issues with IRS, published by the non-profit Media Research Users Council (MRUC), in part because the survey’s findings have begun to show declining readership for magazines across genres even as the publishers claim that circulation of magazines has been steadily increasing.
Flawed or not, the readership surveys are crucial for the health of the print industry because most advertising decisions—and rates—are based on survey data. The surveys also give magazines bragging rights to claim No. 1 or Most Read status in a hotly contested albeit growing market.
Maheshwer Peri, president of AIM and publisher of the Outlook Publishing India (Pvt.) Ltd Group, which publishes Outlook magazine among several others, and Ashish Bagga, governing body member of AIM, and CEO of Living Media India Ltd, the publisher of India Today and other magazines, are spearheading the new survey initiative, said these people familiar with the development.
Peri and Bagga have had informal talks with research agencies to launch the new survey, the people said. Peri declined to comment for this story. Bagga did not respond to phone calls and messages.
Many hurdles remain before this magazine industry wish can become reality. For one, a new survey would cost about Rs6 crore each year, putting a significant burden on magazine publishers. Another hurdle is that while many magazines in India are sold nationally, there are many regional ones that add significant complexity to any new survey.
Indeed, cost considerations have stalled an attempt to refine and revive NRS, which had been an annual readership survey but hasn’t been published for the last two years. The survey is conducted by the National Readership Studies Council (NRSC), which is run by representatives from the Advertising Agencies Association of India (AAAI), the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC), a body of advertisers and media companies that oversees circulation audits, and the Indian Newspaper Society (INS).
A revamped NRS was expected to cost about Rs15 crore annually. IRS, say some media specialists, costs about Rs6 crore each year.
Last year, MRUC attempted to address concerns of magazine publishers with IRS, which publishes readership figures biannually. It formed a magazine committee headed by council vice-chairman Amit Ray, chief strategy officer at broadcaster Bag Films and Media Ltd, to look at the possibility of a separate magazine readership survey. But that process ended up on the back-burner, says a member of that panel, which largely explains why the magazine industry is now looking out on its own for a substitute survey.
Media buyers estimate that, on average, some 50 magazines have been launched annually in India over the past few years, including many international titles making their Indian debut. Recent launches include India Today Group’s auto magazine Auto Bild, Outlook Group’s Outlook Profit as well as People.
Despite this, ad revenue for magazines remains a small part of the overall advertising spending. According to figures provided by media firm Madison Group, print ad revenue is estimated to be Rs9,995 crore in 2008 with magazines accounting for about 10%.
Meanwhile, not all magazine niches are thriving. In business magazines, recent IRS data showed a large drop in readership. Shubha George, managing director, Mediaedge:cia, a unit of GroupM India Pvt. Ltd, points out that this has been a trend with business magazine readership having declined by an average of 25-30% in the last two years.
“I think it is a good idea to initiate a separate study for magazines and this has been a demand of most magazine publishers,” says Pallav Moitra, chief executive officer of Paprika Media, which publishes TimeOut. “Readership of magazines will be best reflected if treated differently from dailies as the methodology and sample for magazine study may need suitable changes. Also, it will benefit city-centric magazines such as TimeOut which has strong reader base in specific pockets of cities.” (Mint has an exclusive content tie-up with TimeOut for its Friday Business of Life pages.)
Man’s World India editor N. Radhakrishnan agrees. “Magazines are consumed differently from newspapers,” he notes. “They have a longer shelf life. Most magazines are bought off the stands while newspapers are delivered at home. The dynamics of magazine readership is quite different. Existing readership surveys are all skewed towards newspapers.”
Another publisher, who didn’t want to be named, concedes that declining readership data from existing surveys had been hurting the magazine industry. “There is a belief in the publisher circles that there is a fallacy in the way magazine readership is getting captured,” this publisher said. “But, how do we rectify that fallacy? That’s why the industry is working towards its own readership survey.”
But, others don’t see a specialized survey solving the problem. Paresh Nath, deputy president of the Indian Newspaper Society, which conducts NRS, and is also publisher of Delhi Press, said a separate magazine survey by an entity such as AIM may not be as comprehensive and have limited chances of being used as the benchmark by media agencies and advertisers.
Some media buyers Mint spoke to were split on the value of a new survey. Srikanth Raman, general manager at Starcom MediaVest Group, also doubts if a survey initiated by magazine publishers could become the industry standard.
“We already get magazine readership figures through IRS. As such, magazines do not occupy the same position in media plans as TV or print,” Raman said. “What gets sold is what is closest to the advertiser’s heart. And everyone knows magazine readership is falling and ad spends are declining.” Raman did say that the survey would need to offer something different, such as qualitative data, if it were to be considered useful to advertising decisions.
But Chandradeep Mitra, president of Radar, a media buying unit of the Mudra group, says there is indeed a shortage of good data on magazines. “Magazines claim certain circulation figures, and these numbers are higher than what is there in the market,” he said. “Existing surveys are not adequately representing magazines. If someone else is doing it right, I don’t see why it cannot emerge as industry currency.”