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Magzter, headquartered in New York is the world’s largest and fastest growing cross platform global digital magazine store and newsstand. Launched in June 2011 by Girish Ramdas and Vijayakumar Radhakrishnan Magzter presents a unique revenue-share business model to publishers that makes it easy for them to offer digital editions of their magazines globally with no upfront cost. Currently Magzter boasts of over 18 million digital consumers, more than 3500 magazines, 1000s of books and comic titles from over 1000 publishers. The company counts among its publisher customers some marquee names including Hearst (USA), Conde Nast (USA), Newsweek (USA), AMI (USA), Dennis Publishing (UK), Haymarket (UK), Media24 (South Africa), Edipresse Asia (HK), India Today Group (India), WorldWide Media (India), Alpha Media (USA), Black Enterprise (USA), Singapore Press Holdings (Singapore) and has been rapidly expanding its publisher base with magazines from more than 40 countries.

Nivedita Jayaram Pawar spoke to Girish Ramdas, Co-Founder and CEO Magzter on the growing popularity of app and the future of digital publishing.

Magzter is a unique concept. How did you get the idea for Magzter?

In 2009 we had created an iPhone app for our own magazine, Galatta Cinema and within a year we got 100,000 downloads – and this was only from the iPhone. In 2010 when the iPad launched, we launched the iPad app for the magazine and that too was an instant success. Before 2009, we had experimented with online versions for the Galatta Magazine which never really took off in a big way. So we realized that the Tablet and Mobile users were an ideal target for magazine readers. Buoyed by the success we decided to replicate it with a platform for other magazines as well.

What were some of the initial challenges during the launch and how did you deal with those?

Just as in the case of any start up we have had to spend a considerable amount of time in researching and devising an engine that would work across platform and create a digital magazine store and news stand that would support different languages. Also, the fact that this had to be a win-win situation for both the publishers and us was perhaps the paramount challenge that we had to address.

What is the response to the app?

The response has been overwhelming to say the least. We have had 1.8 crore downloads in just a matter of just 26 months making us the fastest growing cross platform digital newsstand in the world!

Where is the bulk of the traffic coming from? What percentage does India contribute to? 

Out of our 1.8 crore user base, 40 lakh users are from India.

What would you attribute the success to?

The main reason is the fact that tablets and mobile users are growing in the millions per month and they are all hungry for good content to buy. In addition to this Magzter is device and language agnostic which means it works across various platforms whether it’s Apple IOS, Android (Google Play),Windows 8 and the web. Another reason would be our proprietary OREY Click Publishing system which allows publishers to upload their magazines free of cost onto our site, which, within an hour goes digital. All these have helped us achieve a near monopoly in the Asian markets where there are so many diverse languages while also being able to cater to the staple English speaking audience in other parts of the world.

What is the business model for Magzter?

The business model is a simple one. We have created a multi-platform digital newsstand that publishers across the world can use to upload their magazines at no cost. We only charge the content owners a revenue share when the magazine is purchased or subscribed to by the reader or end user. This way it augments their print circulation and provides a new avenue to monetize their effort in preparing the content and increases their profitability by a very good margin with nil marketing. Publishers get new global readers everyday and virtually at no cost to them! And the readers get to read content at almost half the cost of a physically published magazine and therefore create a winning proposition for them as well. Since we now have more than 3,500 magazines and recently added books, we are also looking to monetize this content using advertisements.

When did you start monetizing it?

Right from the inception our model worked on monetizing the sales from end customers while being available free to publishing houses to upload their magazines into the storefront

What is the revenue model?

Revenue share from the magazine sold individually or subscribed from our digital store and news stand. We are also looking at creating a channel for Digital Only advertising revenues in the near future.

Sales of offline magazines are declining globally. Will apps like Magzter add to the decline?

While the statement may be partly true that sales of offline magazines are declining globally, in a country like India they are still doing very well. Apps like Magzter are actually augmenting the revenue to the publishers and not cannibalizing the print avatar. At best it can be said that this digital news stand is catering to a Gen X that looks at the Tabs and smart phones as devices to scour for their content which is not only informative but also has some interesting interactive features that make it worth their while.

What is the product portfolio currently and how many more are looking to add in the near future?

Our Digital magazine store and News Stand has 3500+ magazines, 10,000 books that will be uploaded shortly and caters to a 1000 publishers worldwide and supports 40+languages. We may look at customized news broadcasts in the near future.

What is the estimated number of smart phone consumers in India?

That is a dynamic figure that keeps changing by the hour all the time and to hazard a guess would be futile. But it would be anywhere between 100m and 200m.

Which are the devices that Magzter is currently available on?

The Magzter app is available on Apple IOS (iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch), Android (Google Play – Samsung, HTC, Micromax, etc),   Windows 8 (Microsoft Surface, Lenovo, Nokia, etc), Kindle Fire, the web and Amazon App Store and is expanding to more platforms soon.

You have already had two rounds of funding? What areas did you focus with the funds?

We are currently focusing on global expansion. Especially to the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, China and India). We will also be investing on creating a state-of- the-art technology base as well as creating new avenues for increasing our revenues.

What are your expansion plans? How would they be funded?

We are currently present across USA, UK, Europe, Middle East, India, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, South Africa, Australia, Hong Kong, New Zealand and Turkey among others. We will push for a presence in Brazil, Japan, Russia and China as well shortly. We hope to soon become the number one reading destination in the world. We will be funded partly from internal accrual and partly from the Investments already in hand.

What is it that you are currently working on/developing at Magzter?

We spend a considerable amount of time in research and development and we will want to create avenues for more and more readers to get onto the Magzter platform. A customized newsfeed section based on the readers reading habits is what we want to offer to our growing customer base. We are in the process of creating a seamless reading experience across magazines, books and news.

When do you think we will see a near-complete transition into digital content?

That transition is almost at 10-20% in digitally evolved markets like US but in India we are still around 1-2%. As the internet penetration takes root in a significant manner across multiple geographies and the number of tab and smart phone users increase only then will this transition take real effect. For this to happen in a country such as India it might take another quarter of a century.

Are there any interesting concepts or innovations you have introduced at Magzter? Please give details.

As a Digital News Stand that works across multi-platforms seamlessly for publishers the innovation is already built in to our business proposition. We offer free publications as well on our site which is a totally new experience for first time users to sample the efficacy of our offerings. Coupled with the fact that it takes hardly an hour to have your uploaded magazine reach out to multiple geographies from the Magzter Digital store is another huge incentive for all publishers across the world. Digital Books would soon be available on the Magzter site across various devices making it truly one of its kinds in the world. Magzter also provides publishers with branded apps on Apple’s Newsstand which nobody else is doing. What are the mistakes you have made in the business over the last few years?A few mistakes are always the stepping stone to success is what we believe in. Our first effort in going online with Galatta magazine was in itself a near disaster as we had to scrap it totally and rework from scratch. As they say practice makes it perfect and we have quickly adapted to the challenges posed by this industry. We are also a start-up in that sense and are barely 26 months old in this arena so we like to believe that we are still on the learning curve and hope to get better as we go along.

Please share some key learning that you have gleaned over the years in this business?

To be focused in your vision is paramount. Content is the king. To reach the content out in real time is the reason why we are in the business. Everything else can be worked around with and improved upon. People come in a very close second because without the dedicated effort of the team on hand the success story would have been impossible. They need to be nurtured and the success and the benefits thereafter will be fairly shared. Thirdly to stay ahead of the competition we need to constantly innovate and create a win-win situation for all the stake holders involved especially to our millions of users. Any business that takes cognizance of the fact that the customer is the king today and pleasing him is a necessity and not just an option is likely to thrive.

Lastly what is the future of digital publishing?

It is certainly looking northwards and the growth is likely to be exponential and Magzter is a perfect example of this growth and future. A conservative statistic that has been revealed is that it would burgeon into a US$8.3 billion dollar (Rs. 50,000+ crore) industry by the end of 2017. It could well become an oasis for the information thirsty populace.

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