By Avanish Tiwary
Decoding magazines: Vijayakumar Radhakrishnan and Girish Ramdas
Vijayakumar Radhakrishnan and Girish Ramdas are busy traveling to different countries across the world and meeting publishers of all genres and kinds. After running a software company, Dot Com Infoway, and a south Indian film magazine, Galatta Cinema, for almost a decade, the duo decided to merge both ideas and start something which would be bigger than anything they had pursued before.
They decided to set foot into the $150 billion digital magazine publishing industry, which has a lot of untapped potential still. Post 2009, when the iPad and other similar devices swarmed the market, the duo saw an opportunity to do something in the digital magazine publishing space.
With Magzter, which was launched in July 2011, Radhakrishnan and Ramdas are aiming to publish magazines digitally and make the same available on various mobile devices through a subscription model.
“There are many players in the US market in this space, however, they are restricted geographically and are not available on all devices,” says Ramdas, Co-Founder and CEO, Magzter. He adds, “We enjoy a global presence and are not restricted to only one device. If a reader buys the subscription of a magazine on an iPhone and after a few months switches on to some other device, their subscription automatically gets transferred to the new device through the cloud software.”
The founders claim that this is the innovation Magzter has brought into this industry, which is expected to grow at 67 percent by 2016, according to a PricewaterhouseCoopers 2012 ‘Global Entertainment and Media Outlook’ report.
“As we had the experience of software technology teamed with that of running a magazine, we saw where the problem was. Once we knew the problem and identified it, it was not very difficult to find a solution,” says Radhakrishnan, Co-Founder and President, Magzter.
Radhakrishnan, who is a software technology expert, admits that it is a challenge to be present on all devices as the coding for each device is different and unique. “As and when a new device is launched, we start working on the coding for it. As we also offer easy transferability of subscription from one device to another, we are always on our toes,” he says.
Magzter got its A-series funding of $3 million from Indo-US Venture Partners recently. Earlier, it spent around $0.5 million in the first 15 months just to build and launch the product. Within a year, it has added 1,000 magazines in its catalogue, up from 25 when they launched. It boasts of having more than 4 million subscribers and readers worldwide, and the company is adding, on an average 1,000 users every day.
“We are seeing a huge market in Asia. Half of the 4 million global users are from Asia and we see this market growing manifold in the next couple of years,” says Ramdas. He says that if any US publisher wants to reach Asian markets like Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, etc, they have to go through Magzter. “We have created a kind of a monopoly in the Asian market for digital publishers.”
Radhakrishnan says that even in the US market, everyone keeps talking about going digital and being present on all devices, however, no one was doing it. “We are trying to revolutionize the digital publishing market with our innovation using a simple revenue-sharing model, which is an easy and cost-effective way for publishers to be present digitally on all devices globally.”
The Indian market
India is a huge market opportunity for Magzter as the number of smartphone users are increasing exponentially. But Ramdas says it’s still not mature in terms of reading on tablets and other devices. “It’s more of a push market in the form of VAS, SMS, ringback tones, etc,” he says.
However, out of 4 million users, more than 7 lakh users are from India, which Ramdas and Radhakrishnan think is an encouraging number. “We know that India will play a huge role in the digital magazine industry, but it will take some time to really take off,” says Radhakrishnan.
The eyes of both the founders gleam brightly when they say, “More than 95 percent of readers worldwide are still reading on print, which essentially means we have that big a market to tap.” As the global publishing industry is primarily based in New York, they run Magzter out of NYC, with regional offices in London, Singapore and Chennai.
The US market, they say, is crowded and there are lots of players offering too many things, which has confused users. “Readers are not sure if they should buy the content for the device or the device for the content,” says Radhakrishnan. The US alone has a market size of $40 billion, which is huge. “But if you look at the rest of the world, which is three times the size of the US market, I see a huge potential. Everyone is moving towards smartphones and now we have 3G, which is driving people to download more stuff. Long-form reading is also increasing,” he adds.
Magzter is also planning to start a freemium model, where few selected articles will be free to read whereas others will not. This has increasingly become popular among digital publishers in recent times. “As it is a new market, we are trying to experiment a lot,” says Ramdas.
The next page
“The idea behind Magzter,” Ramdas says, “was to complete the reading experience. So now that we are into magazines, we don’t want to get restricted to the same and plan to get into books too.” Recently, they launched digital comic books with Amar Chitra Katha on all mobile devices. “We want to be the one destination for digital reading.” Right now there are no advertisements; however, they do plan to include ads in the near future. “For now, we only want to add more magazines and users and not bother anyone with ads. But once we have got a good base of readers, we will look at the ad-supported format,” concludes Radhakrishnan.
© Entrepreneur India November 2012
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