Publishers and marketers scale up the content learning curve.
By Jeff Heilman
The “360° opportunity” theme of this year’s FIPP World Magazine Congress, held in Gurgaon, India, aptly describes India’s nascent custom publishing industry, as a mix of foreign and homegrown publishers cultivate market acceptance in the world’s second-most populous nation and second fastest-growing economy.
While no mention of custom publishing appears in “The Indian Magazine Segment: Navigating New Growth Avenues,” a first-ever study of India’s publishing industry from Ernst & Young, commissioned by the Association of Indian Magazines, it was certainly a topic of interest at AIM’s annual Indian Magazine Congress last year. Speaking at the “Drivers for Growth in Custom Publishing” panel discussion, Xavier Collaco, president of publisher Media Transasia India Ltd., stated that while India’s 0.2 percent spend “is nothing compared to other countries,” the “new territory” of custom publishing “enables a vast scope for growth.”
First, however, there are some stumbling blocks to overcome.
“The main hurdles and challenges to growth include the lack of historical references, a limited orientation in companies around using custom publishing for their communication needs, and a lack of assigned budgets,” says Prakash Johari, co-founder in 2006 of Delhi-based integrated publisher MaXposure Media Group. “There is some activity from international brands, but overall, this is a very early stage for Indian custom publishing.”
Another obstacle cited by Johari is the reliance of Indian firms on in-house publishing, which he says “takes huge opportunities away from custom publishers.” MaXposure Media, however, is ahead of the curve on all fronts. While other publishers strive to sell the concept, the company has become one of India’s custom leaders. It produces the in-flight titles Air India Magazine for India’s flagship carrier andSpiceRoute for fast-rising SpiceJet Airways; Touchdown, the official magazine of Mumbai International Airport; and customer magazines for Mercedes Benz, Nissan, and ICICI Prudential.
Reflecting the trend of foreign M&A and joint venturing in India identified in the Ernst & Young report, leading European magazine publisher Gruner + Jahr International acquired a majority interest in MaXposure Media in July. With consolidation seen as one way forward, the Mumbai-based Chitralekha Group is patiently harnessing its pioneering legacy and publishing prowess to advance its custom ambitions one client at a time.
“Providing custom publishing based on specialty content verticals including Bollywood, luxury timepieces, banking, and retail, we take up custom publishing offers purely on our editorial strength in a particular subject,” says Mitrajit Bhattacharya, president and publisher of the Chitralekha Group and general secretary of AIM, India’s first industry body for magazine publishing.
Producing successful custom programs such as Vision Asia, a monthly magazine for subscribers of the leading cable TV operator for Indian television channels in Australia and New Zealand, and the biannualWatch Couture for premium customers of Standard Chartered Bank, Bhattacharya takes the same patient, case-by-case approach to winning over hesitant prospects. “Objections largely revolve around monetization models and the structure of each deal,” he says.
He recognizes, however, that there is work ahead. “Apart from the in-flight and hotel trades, the size of custom publishing in India is still very insignificant,” he says.
While AIM and bodies like the Association of Business Communicators of India have yet to compile data on the scale and reach of custom publishing in India, optimism is one discernible measure. “The Indian magazine industry is indeed ‘navigating new growth avenues,’” stated AIM President Pradeep Gupta in the Ernst & Young report’s introduction. “The next 10 years promise to unfold a plethora of opportunities in this market segment.”