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Content matters

India is the biggest media market in the world, after China, declared Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi, Union Minister of Information and Broadcasting, last fortnight. Dasmunsi rattled off an impressive array of statistics to bolster his case.

India is the biggest media market in the world, after China, declared Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi, Union Minister of Information and Broadcasting, last fortnight. Speaking at the Indian Magazine Congress (IMC) 2007 in Mumbai— organised by the Association of Indian Magazines (AIM)—Dasmunsi rattled off an impressive array of statistics to bolster his case.

The reach of print media has increased from 179 million in 2003 to 222 million in 2006. “Within the print media, magazines are one of the fastest-growing segments with 4,000 magazines in English alone with a readership of 100 million,” he added. And although the reach of the print media has fallen in Indian cities in the last three years, from 48 per cent to 46 per cent, it has grown in the rural areas from 17 per cent to 19 per cent.

Priyaranjan Dasmunsi
Priyaranjan Dasmunsi
 

The number of newspapers and magazines in rural areas was almost equal to those in urban areas. Of the total of 200 million readers in the country in 2005, as many as 98 million are from rural India.

Why then is it such a hassle to bring in foreign investment, wondered a section of those present. In an interactive session with the minister, Aroon Purie, Editor-inchief, India Today Group (which also publishes Business Today), touched upon issues related to procedural and bureaucratic delays in terms of registration, ministerial approvals and other legal requirements. Neither do restrictions on new ventures and alliances help matters.

Currently, India allows 100 per cent foreign investment in nonnews media. Since last August 78 such magazine titles have been approved. “With further liberalisation, especially 100 per cent equity in special interest publications, we expect foreign investments in this segment to grow,” Dasmunsi said.

But what about the 26 per cent ceiling on foreign direct investment (FDI) that the government has stipulated in the news and current affairs space? The good minister’s response: “We have a team in the I&B Ministry that is looking after this”. He assured publishing company representatives that all policy reforms would take place by the end of January 2008.

Dasmunsi also informed that the ministry was planning to have a separate division under the Registrar of Newspapers of India (RNI), which would handle national and international registrations, thereby reducing administrative and procedural delays.

He stressed on the need to have more players in the industry, and not just a few companies or publications controlling the market. “Why should there be less players? Rather, there should be a number of publications in the market. But we also have to ensure the quality of the new entrants,” he maintained.

Whilst various strategies to keep readers engaged were discussed at the Congress—Purie for instance talked about exploring mobile as a platform for magazine publishers —at the end of the day it’s all about content. “Whatever the platform of delivery, the basic parameter does not change: Which is investing in editorial content. If you get your content right everything else will fall in place.” Gopalratnam Kannan, Country Manager, Swatch Group India, agreed that it was content that would decide the evolution of the industry. Shashi Sinha, CEO Lodestar Universal, predicted that the magazine industry will emerge as the highest source of readers’ trust.