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Business battles on the news-stands

May 15, 2009 11:22 IST

Next week, two major international business publications will hit the news-stands in India.

Monday, May 18, will see the launch of the facsimile edition of The Wall Street Journal Asia from Mumbai and Delhi.

On Wednesday, May 21, Steve Forbes, chairman and CEO of Forbes Inc and editor-in-chief of Forbes magazine, will be flying into Mumbai. His agenda: To attend the launch of the Indian edition of the eponymous English business news magazine most famous for its annual billionaires' list.

Forbes has tied up with TV18, a group company of Network 18, to produce and publish the magazine in India, which is launching this premium publication in the most challenging of economic environments.

WSJ's India editor and publisher Suman Dubey admits that times are tough but adds that WSJ is looking to the future. "As the economy improves, there'll be a great opportunity for WSJ in India. Indian businessmen are interested in global investment news."

Dubey declines to comment on the print order for the paper which will be priced at Rs 25 a copy in a market in which most other business papers are priced under Rs 4. "Currently, the WSJ sells a few hundred copies in the country because the paper is not printed here and arrives a day late. When morning delivery begins, the numbers will change," he claims.

Meanwhile, media industry estimates say TV18 will print 50,000 copies of Forbes for the Indian market. The figure is contested by Network 18 group CEO Haresh Chawla who says that the print run will be higher.

"It's a large-scale launch and the magazine will be well-marketed and distributed," he says, but declines to share the print order. In the US, the fortnightly business magazine is published by the privately-held media company and sells 900,000 copies.

Market sources indicate that at Rs 50, Forbes will be priced much higher than the available Indian business magazines such as Business Today, Business World, Outlook Business and Business India, which are available for between Rs 10 and Rs 20, depending on their frequency.

Chawla does not confirm the cover price but admits that Forbes will be more expensive than the current crop of business magazines in India.

So what is the reader paying a premium for? The magazine plans to have a "healthy mix of Indian and international content," according to Chawla.

Many feel that Forbes may have an edge in terms of content because it has hired a team of about 50 people in India -- which is equivalent to what most Indian business magazines can boast of. Besides, it can draw on its full-fledged international staff.

Outlook Business publisher Maheshwar Peri, however, plays down its 'international content' advantage. "International content can hardly be a positioning statement. It has to be relevant content," he says.

WSJ, meanwhile, will be no different from what's printed in Asia. "The fax edition cannot have any original content or advertising," Dubey explains. WSJ is not a mass-circulated paper and it will address the top-end business readers in the country.

Forbes is eyeing a similar target audience.

Mumbai-based Dentsu Media COO Sanjay Chakraborty says Forbes is expected to target top-end business readers -- "you could say the top 25 per cent of the Business World and Business Today reader." He does not see the magazine selling more than 15,000 copies.

The inaugural issue of Forbes is said to be about 200 pages. And according to advertising industry sources, the magazine is asking for an ad rate of Rs 4 lakh (Rs 400,000) to Rs 5 lakh (Rs 500,000) for a page.

Chawla does not comment on advertising tariffs but says that advertisers will pay a premium because the magazine will reach out to an audience that is difficult to access through other media platforms.

However, even in the best of times business magazines are unable to charge more than Rs 2 lakh (Rs 200,000) for a full-page ad. But media planners feel that owing to its brand equity Forbes will manage to attract premium product advertising and top-end corporate campaigns.

It's difficult to say how Forbes will impact India's small and sluggish Rs 120 crore (Rs 1.2 billion) business magazine market but Network 18's Chawla is confident of expanding the market significantly.

"It's a sizeable opportunity," he said. His belief is that India's business magazine market has remained under-invested. "Forbes will redefine the market," he predicted.

To succeed, however, distribution is key. It is not clear if TV18 will push the trade- or subscription-driven model.

Indian magazines typically do not make money through either of these distribution channels because they sell at a subsidised cover price. For instance, a business publication priced at Rs 20, may cost approximately Rs 27 to produce. It recovers barely Rs 12 from the trade since the remaining amount is retained as hawker commission.

Forbes will be printed at Infomedia 18 (part of Network 18 group), which also prints and sells special-interest magazines like Overdrive, Chip, Better Photography and T3. WSJ, meanwhile, will be printed and distributed by the Indian Express Newspapers Ltd that publishes The Indian Express.

Shuchi Bansal in New Delhi
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