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On The State Of The Magazine Industry In India; Outlook Shuts Three Magazines

The Outlook Group has pulled the plug on three of its licensed international titles: People, Geo and Marie Claire, choosing not to renew licenses that were up, BestMediaInfo reported on Friday. Marie Claire was being published in partnership with French publisher Groupe Marie Claire, People magazine was licensed from Time Inc., while Geo was licensed from Gruner + Jahr (G+J) International, a part of the Bertelsmann group. It’s worth noting that, two years ago, G+J had acquired a majority stake in custom publisher Maxposure, so it does have a magazine presence in India to relaunch Geo with.

There appear to be contradictory statements on the reasons for the closure of these magazines. Indranil Roy, President for the Outlook Group told BestMediaInfo that “It has nothing to do with profitability. It’s our business call not to continue with the titles”, while Vinod Mehta, Editorial chairman of the group, told BusinessWorld that the three magazines were losing money because of the huge licensing fees for these three “white elephants” being paid to the foreign title holders. Outlook has reiterated that this doesn’t impact the other Outlook Group magazines, and Roy has denied that the group is being acquired by Network18. We find it surprising that the Network18 rumor even surfaced, since the Network18 group appears to focusing only on television and digital.

What’s In It For The Brand To Keep The Publication Running?

The decision to keep licensed brands running are eventually only going to be driven by the ability to sell advertising because the groups that bring them in are not vested in building these brands, because they don’t own them:  these associations are, at best, transient. As a parallel from the digital industry, I would point you towards what Rammohan Sundaram did with Ad:tech for NetworkPlay, and is now trying to do with TechCrunch events in India. It’s either going to be build-operate-transfer or build-operate-shut-down for these deals. The only way to address this is there is actually a joint venture, where both parties have invested, and hence have a vested interest in keeping it running.

Not Enough Advertising Or Not Enough Readers?

Also note that the publisher of an unnamed publication, rival to Outlook, told Mint that that advertising in lifestyle magazines is growing, and that in news and current affairs magazines is declining, while, in contrast, a FirstPost report contends that lifestyle magazines are finding it difficult to find readers, something which this article on Delhi press also points towards. The way I see it, and this is what a comment on FirstPost points out, the high-end readership is going digital, and increasingly so, and discover is going social. The growth in print appears to be coming from regional and local publishing, which have so far been under-served markets, and while this will continue, in case of the urban and the youth segments, which are a key target audience for most advertisers, Digital is a growing medium, and print, a declining one.

A shift of spends to digital is taking place from across media platforms; it’s not yet a torrent, and most of it is probably going to Google, but it is growing, in the same way readership for digital is also growing. There’s no telling what the pecking order will be for a decline in print, but the market is correcting and it will continue to correct. In that scenario, the magazine business has few options: publishers will have to consolidate to bring in economies of scale, augment print with a digital presence, and figure out ways of reducing costs of operation.

Recent developments

So, here’s what’s been happening in the magazine space of late (and you can tell us more by leaving a comment):

– M&A: G+J acquired Maxposure a couple of years ago, and since then, Burda has also acquired Exposure Media Marketing, which publishes Indian editions of AsiaSpa, Millionaire Asia, Asia-Pacific Boating, Selling World Travel, Designer Mode and Audi magazine. Delhi Press, publishers of The Caravan, acquired Business Standard’s Motoring. The article on Delhi Press mentions that it was in talks with MW, a lifestyle publication, for investment as well.
– Shut Down: Apart from People, Geo and Marie Claire, the First Post report mentions that Atelier and Atelier Diva also shut down a month ago. Not a magazine, but in some ways playing in the same space, The Times of India group has shut down Crest, a Saturday edition it ran.

Do let us know if there are other developments in the magazine space that we might have missed.

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