Do you read magazines?

Jul 27, 2012, 07:05 IST | Vanita Kohli-Khandekar

What magazines are you reading these days and where do you pick them up?

What magazines are you reading these days and where do you pick them up? The chances are you pay between Rs 100-200 to pick up a tech, beauty, health, business or even parenting magazine from the airport or beauty salon or a book shop. The chances also are that you are reading more magazines than ever thanks to apps that can be downloaded directly onto your iPad.

Why then does everyone think that magazines are in decline? Why are magazine publishers so abjectly defensive about the media?

Damaging: The negative sentiment about magazines comes from publishers. Readers still love them

Through July the Association of Indian Magazines (AIM) has been showcasing the results of a survey. It says, in effect, that people read magazines with complete ‘engagement’. This means they do not do anything else — listen to the radio, surf, watch TV or speak to someone on the phone among other things — while reading a magazine.

AIM doesn’t need to do this. The fact is that the market for magazines has grown hugely if you go by the number of titles launched, the foreign players coming in, by the revenues that magazines make.

However the sentiment around magazines remains negative. This is for two reasons.

One is magazine publishers’ own blinkered approach to investing in their business. For too long they have been happy to be lumped with newspapers when it comes to readership surveys, distribution or pricing. A Vogue at 60,000 copies can never do well in readership surveys and circulation audits meant for newspapers and news magazines, which sell in lakhs. Vogue falls in the same bracket as specialty consumer magazines such as DataQuest, Chip or GQ. This group along with business-to-business magazines such as Power Line or Chemical Weekly India, among others are the ones really growing.

But this growth is not reflected in the overall numbers because news magazines, in gentle decline thanks to the internet and new media, dominate the surveys. Since the big guys show up poorly in the surveys, the assumption is everyone is doing badly.

More importantly you are likely to buy Top Gear, GQ or The Economist at an airport or a book store and not at the paperwallah in the local market. The lesson — if you put a magazine at the right place, consumers are price agnostic. For very long speciality magazine publishers simply tried to use existing surveys and metrics to sell. Their attempts at educating advertisers or media buyers were feeble, at best. It took the entry of dozens of foreign players such as BBC, Axel Springer or Conde´ Nast and of FIPP, a global magazine media association, to push India’s magazine publishers to get together and to do this survey aimed at educating media planners and buyers.

And that brings me to reason two on why magazines are doing well and yet not registering. For most media planners and buyers, the media with the highest reach and lowest rates is the best thing to safely put advertiser money on. The engagement argument rarely convinces them. Most don’t read the magazines they buy ad space in. Nor do they bother to understand the context in which magazines or newspapers are read. For instance Anand Vikatan or Vanitha are huge successes in Tamil or Malayalam. But it took media buyers years to recognise them.

The story was repeated with language newspapers which were huge successes but had to suffer lower rates than English papers for years. They still do but the ad rate difference between English and Indian languages has gone down. For most buyers till there is a large number — in lakhs ideally — none of the other things, engagement, involvement, stickiness etc matter. It is when advertisers, who wanted to reach out to small-town India started demanding language media that media buyers started paying attention. That will happen with magazines too.

So sit back and enjoy your time with your favourite magazine. And let the doomsayers be.

The writer is a media specialist and author. Follow her on twitter at 

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