Friday, April 21, 2006

Revulsion.

I wasn't planning to post anything today and then I saw the latest issue of India Today. I don't think there are enough adjectives in the dictionary to quite describe my horror at this once-venerable magazine. I really don't know whwther the 30-year old publication is going through a major mid-life crisis - but for god's sake, why did they subject us to this tripe. A colleague said, oh gadgets and cars (in Spice, a shitty supplement that a billboard off the Santacruz flyover informs me that I get 'Free' with the magazine like those even crappier 'Simply' shit) you must be happy. But nothing prepared me for the crap that I was about to endure.
Just how clueless is IT? Last week, India Today subjected us to yet another 'Womens Issue' which said just about nothing. And Sallu's fun time in jail - which ToI, EchTee and DNA had decided should occupy 500,000 column centimeters every day for five days (OK, so I'm exaggerating, sue me!) was according just a narrow single column. Then there was that Jessica Lall thing, again, even in Bombay, the papers were going nuts, NDTV seemed to have become a single-issue channel and helped Airtel and Hutch make a lot of money, but IT? Nope, the papers would have dealt with it, so, lets just bury our heads in the sand and pretend nothing happened at Qutub Collanade.
But the current cover story takes the cake. First off, careful readers will observe a startling similarity in the cover shoot to a Man's World issue back in July 2005. But, even better the gadgets and 'Hot and Cool' products they advise you to buy seem to be lifted from a variety of magazines - from three-six months earlier. But, seriously tell me - the PSP as a "movie watching device", whiskey tango foxtrot foxtrot foxtrot! Now if you really wanted to give a guide to buyers - don't make yourselves look like a brochure for Jumbo Electronics. Plus, the iPod, the Moto RAZR V3i, the N91/92 - whats new about these gadgets - most of them have been on the market for upwards of six months. Do the Moto PEBL, do some of new products or upcoming products - and try them out.
Sigh! The sad part is as Rashmi pointed out in a comment to the previous post - ITG has the most screwed-up online strategy which is no strategy at all - which kinda makes anything they write about 'hot' and 'cool' stuff look silly. But then again, to be fair, they did leap out of the blocks early on with The Newspaper Today. But even then, nobody would pay for content.
This is sad, because very occasionally there are a couple of decent stories in IT, none of them by S Prassarajan however, if anybody on the face of the planet can understand what the hell is going on with what he saying. Aren't we all taught to go easy on the language for our readers - in an age where SMS-ese is taking this man makes people endure things like this ...
"...Whose sin was the nation paying for that day in Ayodhya? Was the eruptions of raw emitions that swept away the barricades of reason? Was it an unholy alliance between the profanity of faith and the pathology of politics? Was it anyway a justification for the civilisational hurt of the political Hindu? The vandal and the victim have dominated the moral conscience of the nation for so long and Ayodhya still hasn't declared its redunancy as a slogan that mobilises as well as divides..."
If I wrote like that, I bloody well pray that I was a very senior editor, otherwise I would lose my job - no not quite, I assume my Executive Editor would have me impaled for writing this. It was painful typing that because the article can't be accessed by me online. Maybe thats a good thing, really!
What is even sadder is that IT can be so much better - look at the competition. Outlook which despite claiming that their offices are at Safdarjung Enclave should admit that they're based out of 10 Janpath. Then there is Tehelka - which many would consider no competition at all given that they are activist left and after the NDA lost power they have nothing to be activist about. And then there are the two southern publications - Frontline, the latest issue of which I read and had palpitations afterwards - this is seriously loony left-wing stuff. It is as if Sunita Narain and Prakash Karat had a love child. Brrrr.... And then there is The Week, which is living two years behind the rest of India. So India could really do with a nice middle of the road magazine - add a few good technology people (there are none in the market however), add some better lifestyle bits and better movie and music reviews - IT already has a nice Books section - and the magazine could be much better. Like of of the other publications under its banner - some of which are very good and very well packaged. Unfortunately, its been quite a while since Times shut the Illustrated Weekly of India and the ABP Group shut Sunday, both of which were very solid products - but that was all pre-liberalisation (well, not Sunday, but that was a one-man show) so it would be unfair to comment on how well or not well such products would do today. One reason IT manages to do well is because the competition is so sucky. I don't think I thank god enough for the internet.
However, IT's topline grew at a Times-esque 20 percent last year (even though a few years ago its economic prospects weren't so good) and this has led their marketing team to believe that they can shove anything down the throats of their readers. And sadly, much like how editorial teams at the Times were subjugated to the over-riding interests of marketing a few years ago, IT is getting bamboozled by their marketing folks right now. And while the money is good, the product is getting hammered. Eventually, that will show in declining readership and subscriber numbers - in fact it already is. That said, the IRS has lost it - DNA has a readership of 400,000 in Bombay - of course if they plaster the town with advertising there will be recall and if the IRS conducts their surveys in such haphazard manners no wonder you get such weird numbers - if these numbers are true DNA has a larger multiplier than most magazines (a multiplier is the number of people who read each copy of your magazine calculated by dividing readership by circulation and as I said here, Net Paid numbers for DNA are still quite below their expectations). So no-one in the magazine will have a clue when the bomb hits them, because advertisiers are on the ball and they'll be the first to jump ship.
Seriously, if you guys thought the Times was bad, waste 20 bucks and see IT. At least if you spend 20 bucks on the Times (five weekdays in Bombay) you get a few kilos of raddi. With IT you get jackshit. Seriously, if you're a guy and you want to read a general interest magazine, plonk down 60 bucks for a copy of Man's World. And no, I don't work there.

5 comments:

GBO said...

I say, K, what gives? Something deeper, a move, perhaps?

thalassa_mikra said...

I guess it rankles more because you follow gizmos more keenly. I read the HT epaper and am irritated by the howlers their fashion and food writers come up with. Just because you are writing about ephemera doesn't mean your pieces have to be shoddy and clueless.

But I think this is the problem that plagues any kind of "lifestyle" journalism in India (and I think you can include gizmos here as well). There aren't too many senior editors who are well-informed enough to call the bluff.

The journalists are not specialized enough, and the same guy who writes on fashion, food, relationships, may also be writing about fancy cars, gadgets and music.

Apart from all this is the fact that IT has somehow fallen off the map and isn't as relevant as it used to be 10 years ago. They need a new editor, pronto.

shyam said...

Not been reading the comments much on the blogs these days so I am kind of late to jump into the discussion here. But I am quite glad to know at least another person who can't make much sense of what the weird mallu with the weird hair (though that could describe me too) writes.

The Newspaper Today was a product way ahead of its time. Even the tech they had at the time running the show (worked there for a week before I realised the place won't survive too long with the kind of money they were paying everyone and quit) was pretty damn good, but it all got burnt in the war that happened that started with the departure of AG, then the time under APR and KP's disastrous way of going about running the place. More than anything else, they tried doing it all towards the end of the online boom, the bust was just setting in and very few companies, even ones with pretty robust biz models, saw the light of the day after that.

As far as Rashmi's quote of the adage.com quote of Merrill Lynch, I have my doubts. There is a lot of money being made (can't give you exact numbers, but it is more than in the lakh region per quarter), especially by brands that have strong content products to lean on. But for companies like Rediff, Yahoo etc, who make what can be called consumer applications, the customer acquisition rates and basic sustenance costs are high too. But it is still not comparable to what print makes, though, as with stats, you can make the sample fit your conclusions any day.

The problem for mags is that their main product is mostly single use. Once a mag issue is out there, with online as your only mode of delivery, there is no reason why you'd go back to the site after reading it once. With a once in a month/week/ product your inventory won't ever be big enough to pull in decent enough ad rates and there is no per-unit cost I can work out, which is possible with print.

Both spot rates and impression-based ones work best when you have a large amount of inventory to flog and while it works well for small/niche publications to make good money this way, giving it all away for free online alone just won't make the day for mags like IT because the costs involved in bringing out the content is way too high.

The curious thing about most Indian online media properties is that they were not expected to even do well or make a lot of money. Most like the Express have managed to keep going basically because they run a low overheads show, the budget for which is a drop in the bucket of the water it takes to run the main publication. Yes, they do make a decent amount now, at least enough to cover their own operating costs, but in no way enough to cover the costs of the print edition. Publishing on that scale and quality purely for online is very difficult, as sites like Salon and the old Tehelka.com have shown before. It is not impossible, but it is hard work.

And to make things even more interesting, our online market is still about 1.5 years behind the curve in the west and when the massive scale of our aam janta moves in, it will be Punjab Kesris that will make the killing than any of our darling websites. Then there is the entire issue of scaling up your online presence. Serving more people on time in the print world is more a capacity issue, add more printing facilities/requisition more newsprint and you are ready to go. Hell, you can even get others to publish from there if you have capacity to spare. In online, scaling up costs money, at a rate that is much higher that what it costs print.

But putting it all behind a walled garden does not solve things either, which is again reflective of a much larger challenge facing mags, how do they stay relevant?

Adsense, hmm.. that is part black art. I wonder at times if it would be worth it to chuck all of this, rent a dedicated server, slog for six months filling it up with optimised content and make myself rich than to do the same for any of the companies we work for ;)

BTW, I did not know you liked our little website, that's a nice bit to hear.

Anonymous said...

I am a subscriber of india today.
I think this is the ideal time for the competition-Outlook, Frontline, Week, to bring out some discount for existing IT subscribers like me.

Grazer said...

Whenever someone talks about India Today the first thing that comes to my mind is the coverpage with Indira Gandhi on her last journey. Covered in sari and eyes closed.

That was in 1984.

I grew up with India Today. Most of the time I was interested in the last page with those babes. I was too young but fascination for the sex is vibrant at that age.

One thing I understood later on was the personalities in the last page made big later in their life.

They were not big at that time.

One example was this Nasser Hussain the cricketer.

There were others too.

I was too young to understand the copy but I enjoyed the pictures.

First it was all black and white and fortnightly.

Later it changed. And the way it changed I stopped reading it.

My brother in Delhi has subscribed it for five years and he has been collecting the magazine since early nineties. He has a big collection of this magazine. He never sells it. And won't.

A lot of Kashmir was covered at that time. Too much of Kashmir. It was a burning issue then.

I also remember the Babri Masjid demolitions cover page. All the pictures.

The writing was simple and the stories were always interesting.
I thought this was the best.

In 2001 I came to Delhi. After that I slowly stopped reading the shit.

I don't like it anymore. Since the magazine is connected to my childhood days I don't ignore it. But I don't read it. I don't buy it.

I just flip through the pages to see if there is anything worth reading. And I finish flipping in three minutes. It is worth just three minutes of my time. Flip and throw it back in the table.

There was a time when it took me the whole week to read it. Then half a week. Later when I grew up it took me just a day. Now three minutes.

I just feel everything is finished. They won't be able to do the magic again. It has just become a status symbol.

A marketing tool a cow for the Puries and Chawlas. Over milched. I don't know maybe I am wrong.

The present Outlook is the older India Today. But it also has lost the flavour.

Stale is the word.