The numbers show that magazines are facing tough times. If readership numbers weren’t enough, 2013 saw closure of several titles. And while English titles saw a drop in readership, so did leading Hindi and regional language titles. The dip in readership numbers is a cause for worry across the spectrum. But with rising rural prosperity and literacy, will Indian language titles be better placed to buck the trend?
PM Balakrishna, COO, Allied Media, reasons that Indian language magazines are better placed because of the growing economy in tier II and III markets, increasing consumption pattern and literacy levels. He however notes that terming it as ‘insulation’ would be misleading.
Sundeep Nagpal, founder-director, Stratagem Media, feels otherwise. He says, “To the best of my knowledge, the readership of language magazines has been equally badly affected as that of national magazines. And as a result, the ad rates and revenues are most likely to have declined. There is no reason to believe that language magazines can command better rates. In fact, a few casualties come to mind.”
Even as he debunks the IRS figures saying that the figures do not serve the purpose of the magazine industry, Mitrajit Bhattacharya, president and publisher, Chitralekha Group, explains, “The language magazines, as a segment, are more resilient with their circulation and readership numbers as they are built over years of loyalty.”
Varghese Chandy, chief general manager - marketing and advertising sales, Malayala Manorama, concurs, “We find that the drop of English magazines is at a much faster pace than language magazines.” He notes that pass-along readership of magazines has dropped largely in the past few years and this is affecting readership growth. “With rising income and social mobility, more and more people are buying their own copy of the magazine,” he adds.
“When 3,000-plus commercial messages vie everyday for consumer attention, the immersing experience a magazine offers to advertisers becomes important,” asserts Chandy, adding that Vanitha magazine from his group has grown by 35 per cent in the last five years in terms of audited copies.
Nagpal notes that language magazines are offering more innovations and advertorials and using every trick in the book. “They offer subscription schemes to readers as well as access to the digital versions, etc.” says Nagpal.
On the subject of measurement, Chandy adds, “Readership alone cannot be the apt metric for magazine. However, language magazines have stayed ahead of the game through better connect with audiences. Magazines like Vanitha have moved away from plain vanilla ads to consumer activation programs, film awards and integrated sales.”
Media planners point out that while most magazines offer integrated solutions to advertisers, Indian language titles enabling a last mile connect in rural India are of added value. They reason that these connects often reach an audience over and above the magazine’s readership, and facilitate physical distribution reach opportunities.
Another factor that is challenging the growth of Indian language magazines, according to Bhattacharya, is less people reading Indian language publications in urban centres. Nagpal says that the challenge that language magazines face currently includes staying relevant in terms of content and consumption patterns.
Ashish Pherwani, associate director, advisory services, EY, voices the view that regional language magazines aren’t insulated better than English or national magazines.
Meanwhile, Chandy asserts, “I feel the problems are universal and not particular to magazines whether national or regional. Language publications, I believe, are more resilient than national magazines. Economic slowdown directly affects brand advertising in magazines. Rise of digital media, media fragmentation and lack of proper metrics that capture the real strength of magazines remain as a challenge for us.”
The much-awaited IRS figures need to be looked closely when they arrive for one more reason – to figure the answer to this question.
Mitrajit Bhattacharya, president and publisher, Chitralekha Group
“More the brands move to tier II and III towns, more will be the shift (in advertising) to Indian language magazines. There are many categories who are continuously increasing spends in language publications vis-à-vis the national ones.”
Varghese Chandy, chief general manager, marketing and advertising sales, Malayala Manorama
“The problems are universal and not particular to national or regional magazines. Language publications, I believe, are more resilient than national magazines.”
Sundeep Nagpal, founder-director, Stratagem Media
“The factors that affect readership and advertising in case of national magazines can also apply to regional or language magazines, albeit with a bit of time lag. But affect, they certainly will.”
Ashish Pherwani, associate director, advisory services, EY
“I don’t think regional language magazines are better insulated. Magazine is a printed version to reach your target audience - what does a subscriber want, the connectivity with the TG is all that matters, not the language.”
PM Balakrishna, COO, Allied Media
“Regional language publications are challenged by increasing penetration of English language. They need to understand younger audience that is increasingly consuming content online, and cater to older audience that is not migrating as increasingly to digital.”