Media Strategies, Pandemics and Content Consumption: The View from the Top: Tech Talks

Manoj Sharma

Setu Exclusive

On June 8, 2022, the opening day of the World Media Congress 2022, being organised by the FIPP (International Federation of Periodical Publishers) at the seaside historic town of Cascais in Portugal, the Association of Indian Magazines (AIM) made a presentation on their initiatives for resolving distribution problems for magazines, as well as the launch of its branded content studio called Dastaan Hub.

Manoj Sharma, the CEO, India Today group, and treasurer of AIM, who represented India, along with two other industry veterans, at this high-profile international conference.

Setu Journal (SJ) catches up with Manoj Sharma (MS) about the major issues facing media and news-consumption in a high-tech society.


SJ: Congrats Manoj for being a part of the FIPP-hosted World Media Congress attended by 300 delegates from top-notch media outlets. How was the overall experience as a delegate in the deliberations by the insiders?

MS: Indeed, it was a profound experience, especially witnessing the ground-breaking ideas and innovations that publishers across the globe have come up with to sustain and grow in these testing times. One peculiar thing that I realized was that what use to be a prophecy in terms of rapid digitization for sustenance and growth is now the ground reality for many geographies, India Included. However, I am very positive and confident that print version will continue to grow albeit as more premium offering.


SJ: What were the major contours of your presentation? How was the reception of the session?

MS: India as a geography is much more diverse and dynamic as compared to Continental or Pacific countries hence, posing a very unique set of challenges for publishers. Our presentation was two-pronged, first one was about how publishers have countered the challenges that pandemic and resultant dislodging of traditional distribution system had posed, and how these challenges were turned into opportunities for the magazine publishing business.

The second aspect of our presentation was targeting the advertising revenues, which is a lion’s share in publishing business. Probably, as a world’s first, more than 40 publishers joined hands under the umbrella of AIM, an apex body of magazine publishers that represents the community, and created a bouquet offering of native content services to advertisers with combined prowess of 50+ magazine print and digital platforms across Indian geography and languages giving it a potent reach of 150 million+ eyeballs. Something which no other single publisher across platforms can offer.


SJ: What was the general consensus of the conference? The meeting-points of the specialists coming from a variety of socio-economic contexts and ecosystems?

MS: As I said earlier, the consensus at large is that the future is digital for the publishers and that is where the growth lies. However, it nowhere means that print will cease to exist. Print will continue to be bestowed with the responsibility and ownership of being the content locomotive, while digital iterations will be used as amplification channels for the said content.


SJ: Pandemics disrupted the print media to a big extent. How did you come up with the revival strategies of coping up this unseen natural challenge that turned into an existential crisis for small-medium-and-big-companies globally?

MS: I am happy that these challenges were turned into opportunities for the magazine publishing business collectively by AIM and publishers. For example, setting up of whole non-conventional outlets for magazine sale that India Today Group pioneered during the pandemic, which included setting up counters on grocery shops, chemists, super markets and aligning with FMCG distributors as well as using E-commerce platforms like Amazon, Milkbasket, Flipkart and even Whatsapp etc. to sustain and grow sales. Similarly, post-pandemic, we realized that servicing our subscriptions through traditional subsidized post has long been a deterrent in effective after-sale service to the consumer. Resorting to other effective mediums that private logistic partners offer was simply not a cost-feasible option. Hence, AIM took the ownership of aligning with the postal department and after multiple rounds with officials and ministry, we successfully devised a special scheme called “Magazine post” to ensure trackable and streamlined deliveries to subscribers reducing TAT for the entire publishing community. Such examples are a testament to the fact that the pandemic has given us a chance to relook at the processes and innovate to remain relevant and grow.


SJ: What is the idea behind the branded content studio Dastaan Hub? How does it impact content creation and consumption across a multi-linguistic and multi-cultural spectrum in an emerging third-world economy?

MS: Dastaan Hub is a very unique proposition in itself, one it lies on the powerful content-creation capabilities which magazine publishing excels at; content produced by magazine is thoroughly researched, revered and considered much more credible by the audience unlike in the digital or social spectrum. Secondly, it harnesses upon the diversity of language and geography that comes with different magazines under its umbrella. For an advertiser, it is a one-stop solution, when it comes to personalization of the content as per audience cohorts and at the same time the combined readership of print iteration multiplied by the reach of the digital iterations of these magazine makes it a formidable force.


SJ: How is the digital switch going to influence the distribution and consumption of print media in societies still not advanced in terms of digital literacy? Is it a major game-changer?


MS: Publishers of such geography stands an advantage of having case studies ready from their western counterparts in terms of how they adapted and adopted to the changing buying behaviours and digitized purchases by the consumers. However, if you look closely, in a country like India where economic, geographic, and cultural divide is deep, one cannot simply switch over to the newer mediums completely. The sustenance and growth can only be ensured with co-existent print and digital iterations and similarly, concurrent channels of distribution for the products. One can see how apparel industry in the west has realized that brick-n-mortar format cannot be done away with, while proliferating the e-commerce and virtual POS.


SJ: What is your prognosis for the print and digital outlets in a culture strongly oriented towards visual and audio-visual? Any innovations, in pipeline, for such a visual culture by the traditional purveyors of the periodical news and culture?

MS: The New Age consumer has evolved as much more dynamic personality as compared to their predecessors. Publishers not only print, but across formats cannot stay relevant, if they do not adopt the dynamic ways of serving content. The lines are going to be blurred between the format and it will only be the content which will be the winner. Simply put, publishers eventually will have to ensure the same content is available in print, video as well audio formats to the consumer at his/her disposal. And it will be purely consumer’s discretion, their convenience, which format they choose to consume this content.


SJ: News and culture delivery and consumption on the mobile technology has immensely affected reading spans and habits for the young on the go. How do you feel about this demographic of readership? Its future in an AI (Artificial intelligence)-led environments? Its retention and effect on the minds in an info-overload scenario?

MS: AI is proving to be a very effective tool in advertising when it comes to targeting the cohorts with surgical precision and with filtration levels one could not fathom till 5 years back. I think it will only work to the publisher’s advantage in longer run, when it comes to identifying and serving the right content to the right audience. And this means that within the digital world, the magazine offering will be far more customized and personal, as per the individual consumer’s demography as well as psychographic indicators. Digital magazines will play a pivotal role in separating wheat from the chaff for the consumers in the era of information overload, presenting only the relevant and preferred choice of content mix to the consumer.


SJ: What can be the possible collaborations and alliances among the unorganised sector of news vendors, tech giants, content providers/ publishers and consumers in an ongoing pandemic situation?

MS: Like I shared earlier, we are already on the path of creating Omni channel distribution of magazines. Indeed, the magazine publishing will be unifying the unorganized sector of hawkers, vendors with the highly organized increasingly hyperlocal e-commerce sector. A very simple example of this is how the new age platforms like Blinkit, Swiggy Instamart, Wefast etc. are effectively using the traditional Kirana shops to Sabziwalas to create a one-stop delivery network for consumer. The similar innovations are already being done with magazine distribution by us and although they are in a very nascent stage as of now, I am pretty positive that in next 5 years, they will become mainstream and all this without cannibalizing the business for a hawker or a news vendor.


SJ: Thanks for your insights into a dynamic industry that primarily transmits information to a largely media society and shapes up the public perceptions. And thanks for your quality time.

MS: Thanks.

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