Time Inc. has a growing physical presence in Bengaluru, and a circulation of 25,000 copies in India. In an interview with BrandWagon’s Shinmin Bali, EVP and chief content officer of Time Inc. Norman Pearlstine says despite the digital surge, print is far from being written off. Excerpts:
Q. How has the content strategy of Time Inc. evolved with the emergence of newer platforms?
A. Until June 2014, we were a part of Time Warner and at that time we were restricted to print with a bit of digital line extension. Since we were spun off from Time Warner and became an independent public company, we’ve moved aggressively to be a multi-product forum. Particularly, we’ve had to recognise the importance of mobile and the ways in which so many people get information through their phones. In the US, we have 23 print titles which deliver 30 million copies to subscribers per month. This does not include newsstands. So, print is still an important part of our business. At the same time, we need to show we can grow non-print revenues faster than print revenues, which are in decline.
Q. What are the measures being taken by Time Inc. to stay relevant in India?
A. I think the challenge is finding the right combination of content that you have which is different from what other people have. This is a difficult balancing act. There are global issues where Time Inc. can be an important contributor in the environment, healthcare, technology and geopolitics sector for the Indian market.
At the same time, relevance is important. Given our origin is print, we need to look at how digital can allow for aggregation, user generated content and being connected with events in ways that might be more effective in this market.
Q. What are the core challenges for print publishing and for your company?
A. We need to stay on top of technology because it is moving so quickly. Virtual platforms like Oculus are some of the ways to create user experiences. Time Inc. is also known for its coverage on celebrity and entertainment. Can we use virtual reality to deliver the red carpet experience to the consumer? We have a very good business with ‘bookazines’ (instant book publishing). So, when Robin Williams died, we did a biography which was on the newsstands in a few weeks. We’ll get to that point in technology where we’ll see that kind of publication in a few days.
You have to look at commerce as well. If we look at say, InStyle, which is about fashion, the readers love to tear out some pages and make a purchasing decision on what they see. We have to look at whether we can make that an even better experience for the consumer. That is not to suggest that we get into retail. But we do need to think about commerce as an important component.
Q. Do you see a potential for premium content in India?
A. Digital gives you the chance to use local languages and geography, and address specific professions, which is important. Even if it is a very small percentage of the Indian population that cares about global information, that small percentage can still be a big market and a profitable one. But we cannot be arrogant or naive about how competitive the Indian market is.
Q. What roles will technology and analytics play in content curation and management?
A. Technology will continue to allow for greater personalisation. It will get to a point where readers will reward premium content. Right now, people are overwhelmed by how much content there is and going forward, trusted brands will be able to regain their significance and importance.
One of the big concerns with digital is how much can you trust the experience? Do you know it is actually a person reading your ad and not a bot? Do you know when a consumer spends time on a page with say 10 ads, which ones are they really watching?
Print products are successful because there are passionate audiences for them, and as we move forward, premium producers of content are going to find such passionate audiences.
The big change with technology is that the user becomes much more important than before. For so many years, we had a one-to-many model where an editor like me would tell people what to read and now, users are telling me what they want to experience or they’re telling me about their experiences. There’s an opportunity to learn from our users and we need to embrace that.