Home / Opinion / Columns /  Magazines are in a soup but they're not giving up without a fight

It’s no big secret that print is on the decline. GroupM’s ‘This Year Next Year’ report released in February said that between 2015 and 2019, print advertising in India witnessed a compounded annual growth rate of a mere 1%.

Then came covid, shrinking print media spends by 43% in 2020. Print ad spends dropped from Rs18,164 crore to Rs10,350 crore. Though they were expected to climb back to Rs12,731 crore in 2021, the final numbers are not yet out. And when they do come out, they will probably reflect the impact of the brutal second covid wave that swept India in April and May.

Of the total advertising spends on all media, print now corners only 16% market share.

A March report on India’s media and entertainment sector by Ficci and EY underlined the grim state of the magazine industry, with their total revenue plunging from Rs1,000 crore in 2019 to Rs500 crore in 2020. It predicted the segment to recover by 2023.

Against this backdrop, it was not surprising to see the Association of Indian Magazines (AIM) make attempts to bolster their circulation and advertising revenue.

AIM general secretary Anant Nath, who is also executive publisher of Delhi Press which prints magazines like Caravan, Sarita, Grihshobha and Champak, said business was knocked out by covid. News stand sales declined and print runs plunged. It was then that magazine publishers huddled together to figure a way out of the crisis. They realized that collaboration was the only way forward. Nath said that marketers’ interest in magazines has been on a decline even though their readership climbed up to 85 million in 2019 as per the Indian Readership Survey. “So, what we are also up against is perception," he said.

But AIM first fixed its distribution woes. It put together a joint distribution agency network so that publishers could have better bargaining power and increase their footprint across geographies. Next on the radar was boosting subscription revenue. The association has been in negotiations with India Post—the government-owned postal distribution system—to improve delivery, besides being engaged in joint subscription marketing efforts. “As a result, the subscription numbers across publishers have increased during the pandemic to compensate for the loss in news stand sales," said Nath.

Last but not the least, last week, AIM announced the launch of a content marketing studio Dastaan Hub—a centralized system—that will create native content for advertisers. Participating publishers include India Today, Ananda Vikatan, Delhi Press, Outlook as well as magazines owned by media groups such as Malayala Manorama, Network 18 and ABP.

There’s a growing demand for engaging content solutions for narrating brand stories rather than plain vanilla display ads, they said. Dastaan Hub is being spearheaded by media strategy and ad sales veteran Shripad Kulkarni, who plans to create content marketing solutions not just for print but across online video, podcasts, social media and other formats.

“Most magazines have digital sites. Here, we are talking of the nearly 125 magazines with a collective monthly active user base of 100 million plus on digital websites, 50 million on social media in addition to the strong 50 million plus of print. So, aggregation works well with digital," Kulkarni said, explaining the need for a centralized solution.

Besides, the member publications are spread across 10 languages. “Often, people don’t get the colloquial and cultural context of Indian languages. The brand solution is not just translation of content but the rendition of an idea with the right nuances in local language," he said, adding the studio will offer that service.

Branded content or what were earlier flagged as ‘advertorials’ are not new to print media. However, over the years, the disclosure font sizes have shrunk, with some publications not clearly demarcating or highlighting paid content. That will be the key with the new initiative, too. The onus will be on publishers to create and maintain boundaries as India’s advertising regulator Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) doesn’t have separate guidelines for advertorials in print, even though it recently instituted protocols for paid partnerships with online influencers.

Readers are discerning. They can identify native ads, said Rediffusion’s managing director Sandeep Goyal, adding, “magazines still have a life ahead of them… much like newspapers do."

Shuchi Bansal is Mint’s media, marketing and advertising editor. Ordinary Post will look at pressing issues related to all three. Or just fun stuff.

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