Anant Nath always knew his destiny would lead him to his family’s publishing business. Nath joined Delhi Press as a 24-year-old in 2005, and currently holds the positions of director for the group and editor of The Caravan. An MBA from IIM Lucknow and an MA in politics from Columbia University, Nath took upon himself the task of reviving The Caravan – the first magazine from the group that his grandfather Vishva Nath launched in 1940. The Caravan was published for 48 years until, in 1988, Delhi Press decided to discontinue the magazine to start a current affairs magazine. Inspired by The Atlantic and The New Yorker, Nath re-launched The Caravan as India’s first narrative journalism magazine.
After joining the group, Nath spent the first three years dabbling in marketing to understand the publishing business. While the young Nath was learning the nuances of the business, the magazine group that currently publishes 36 magazines across eight languages underwent some gradual changes.
While owners retained a fair amount of managerial control, a strong layer of professional leadership was introduced. “The leadership started introducing better management processes, giving more empowerment to our people, getting in newer hands to bring about changes,” Nath informs. Once he got a fair amount of knowledge on the publishing side of the business, Nath started dabbling into the editorial side. He started working on The Caravan in 2008.
“There was already an over clutter when it came to news weeklies. Dabbling in political journalism was expensive and risky in an overcrowded magazine space. I had fascination for a long-form magazine that would cover politics, art, and culture and there was a clear gap that existed in Indian magazine space. It took me almost 1.5 years to put the magazine together, which itself was a learning curve. With The Caravan, we were able to usher in a very different facet of journalism,” Nath says proudly.
The magazine’s launch, according to Nath, also brought in a new culture into the company and ushered in change. “Since The Caravan launched in 2010, it has been an upward journey in every respect. There is a fair amount of rub off benefit across the group.”
Even though the circulation of the magazine is growing, it has not broken even yet. Recently, the magazine introduced a new online section called Vantage, which carries updates from the magazine and boasts of a healthy following. Nath reasons, “While we were publishing extremely strong political stories as a monthly magazine, we developed a very revered niche. But we weren’t able to respond to news. People would come to website once or twice a month. We decided that we needed to start looking at web more seriously, and started the section called Vantage. It has brought about a radical change in the magazine’s online viewership.”
Vantage’s traffic has almost doubled in the last two months and Nath hopes to further double it by this year-end. “It also gives us the opportunity to dive into more diverse interest groups. In a monthly cycle, you are only doing 15 to 20 stories. On the web, when you are doing multiple stories, you widen your bandwidth. It is helping the magazine grow,” he says. He adds, “The emerging thinking is that people consume more through social media. It is more prone to virality. Web is bringing in more dynamism to the magazine, per se. It’s not a static magazine that is brought out once a month now, it is an ongoing process on the web.”
Currently, Nath is evaluating financial turnaround for the magazine by introducing a pay wall. According to him, their exclusive content would help them in embedding such mechanism. Apart from The Caravan, Delhi Press is planning to get more of its properties online. To begin with, all magazines are available on digital newsstands such as Magzter, apart from the company’s own online newsstand. Nath informs that Delhi Press was the first magazine publisher to tie up with Newshunt app, which usually features free content from newspapers.
“It’s been only three months, and we have got a tremendous response from Newshunt. We are registering over 25,000 downloads per month, and it is paid in our case,” he says.
Taking another digital leap, Delhi Press is set to launch six Youtube channels as well – four for Grihshobha, and two for Champak. “We are creating a series of channels, where we will be publishing short videos around magazines’ themes. For Grihshobha, we are launching four channels covering: personal care, cookery, personal and professional development, and lifestyle. Each month we will be uploading five to six videos per channel. We will be developing 24 videos for Grihshobha and almost eight for Champak,” informs Nath. For Champak, one channel would feature animation, while the other would focus on science.
As Nath asserts, the group is trying all digital avenues and channels like content partnerships with mobile service providers to reach out to readers or viewers, using their own content. “We are already producing content on every possible theme. And because we are in eight languages, the possibilities are endless. Digital is going to be an extremely important part of growth for the next few years. We don’t know how much revenue we will make but we do not give away our content for free beyond a certain point,” says Nath.
Going forward, Nath hopes to develop among consumers the habit of paying for content. “Newshunt has been a huge learning for us. Stories from Manohar Kahaniyan have been bought in hordes. Some of the stories priced at Rs 3 have been downloaded 10,000 times. As long as payment process is seamless, readers do not mind paying for it,” he construes. The group also increased the cover prices of all their magazines by 15 to 20 per cent last year, backing the philosophy that readers should pay for content.
Revenues and beyond
From 2008 to 2012, Delhi Press witnessed 8 to 12 per cent growth in revenues annually. However, in the past two years, the growth has slowed down to 4 to 5 per cent, reveals Nath. The good news, according to him, is that the revenues have not plummeted and the growth is still strong (given what the industry is going through). He is quick to add that Delhi Press needs to grow at a faster rate, because the ‘costs end up growing faster’.
The title contributing most to revenues currently is Grihshobha, followed by Women’s Era, Saras Salil and Sarita.
Asked if recent acquisitions have slowed revenue growth, Nath disagrees. He explains, “In fact, all newer titles have been profitable. In 2008, we acquired Manohar Kahaniyan and Satyakatha. They have been profitable from day one, and their profits have only grown. We acquired two Kannada magazines couple of years back, and they pay for themselves. We acquired Motoring last year, and it is breaking even operationally. Acquiring magazines has been a fairly successful experience in our case.”
Nath is open to acquiring more titles, which ‘fall in line’. “For us what matters is that as long as magazine can take advantage of our existing publishing infrastructure, then it makes sense to acquire. Also it depends on the cost of acquisition,” he reasons.
While highlighting that digital and establishing a pay mechanism would remain a core growth area for the next 10 years, he talks of another focus area: distribution. “The cost of subscription delivery is much higher than the revenue we make. While we are all in favour of subscription on a theoretical basis, practically we do not see it contributing much,” he says. Advertising currently contributes over 60 per cent in revenues for the group. He also negates the idea that advertising is under pressure for print magazines: “If we continuously build a strong case for magazines, advertisers do appreciate the merit of the magazine.”
The director of the group is also eyeing brand extensions. Without divulging details, he says that the group is currently working on ideas to leverage the brand, apart from increasing the readership of its print magazines. He says, “There is huge potential when it comes to print magazine consumption in the country. Even for a group like ours, which is amongst the top two magazine producers in the country, the readership numbers are still sub-optimal. Therein lays a much larger opportunity. We do not want to make the mistake that for an incremental business in digital, we lose out on a far larger ocean of print. We need to balance both the digital and print together.”