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Even as media planners are, by and large, dismissive of men’s magazines, Gentleman, Man’s World, and now IAGT from the Times Group insist the market is slated for big growthIAGT, the men’s magazine from the Times Group which hits stands this month as a bi monthly for Rs 30, displays an editorial orientation suggestive of the erstwhile Mantra, a fashion consciousness associated with Man’s World and a production quality reminiscent of Gentleman. Considering the meager space occupied by men’s magazines in India, it is perhaps inevitable for newcomers to step on to one another’s toes. At the same time, it has always provoked a bigger question: is there a market at all?

The two prominent names in men’s magazines Gentleman and Man’s World are certainly in sync with Bhaskar Das’ (director, Times Group) gutfeel of a social inflection point, and thus, the need for men’s magazines (though they don’t put it in those very words). They say the market is slated to grow big any time now. And that serious positioning platforms are only beginning to emerge. Man’s World, the most premium of the three (Rs 50), claims to have crossed the 40,000 copies mark in its first year. The 20 year old Gentleman, the oldest of the lot, has been restructuring itself under a new editor and publisher, to swap its earlier set of readers for new ones. It claims a readership of 3 lakh copies, citing a whopping ten readers per copy.

Media planners though, remain skeptic. “In my last six years in (media) planning, men’s magazines have been a catastrophic experiment,” remarks Atul Phadnis, associate media director, strategy, Starcom. One of the bigger reasons cited against men’s magazines is the fact that readership of most other magazines happens to be largely male anyway (including women’s magazines). “All magazines by default have a male readership,” says Rajib Sarkar, editor and publisher, Gentleman. Femina, one of the bigger names in women’s magazines, has a male readership to the extent of 40 per cent, according to Das.

“So when it comes to reaching out to men, advertisers already have vehicles that do that,” admits Sarkar. “Men have a wide range of interests and they would rather read about women than about themselves,” reasons Phadnis. Along with reading about women, the looking at women category (Debonair, Fantasy) has done considerably well. But proponents of men’s magazines argue that today, Indian men are displaying a need to read about themselves. It is dictated by changes in incomes and lifestyles brought along by a growing economy, they say. “Men are beginning to think beyond work,” says N. Radhakrishnan, editor and publisher,
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Man’s World. “Look at book publishing today,” he says. “Penguin has a new title virtually every week.” Sarkar looks at his audience in the top tier of Maslow’s pyramid. “Their immediate physical needs are all taken care of,” he says.

These publishers also cite growth in the related fields of men’s fashion and lifestyle accessories branded apparel, branded shoes, premium watches, perfumes, new automobiles as proof of business interest. But why should marketers of these products place their advertising with men’s magazines when they already use mainstream publications? Editorial environment. That is their weapon. “We call ourselves the third tier of magazines after news and current affairs, and business magazines,” explains Radhakrishnan. “The NRS study now has something called the MPX which measures the intensity of reading,” explains Sarkar. “It is about how emotionally involved you are with the magazine. That is where we score.” Das is in agreement. “Increasingly, advertising is judged by the impact it creates, besides reach and OTS. Advertisers are placing their ads given the expected level of audience engagement.”

That is where the players in this field are trying to carve out individual spaces before the action hots up. Gentleman’s Sarkar is an engineering and MBA student who had joined Express Publications (Madurai) as one of its first brand managers in 1996, before being made the publisher of Gentleman over two years back and given additional charge as editor last year. Sarkar is trying to reinvent a magazine whose circulation dipped below 20,000 copies at one point. “I had a good understanding of what revenues it could generate, and therefore, the cost structure we had to adopt,” he recalls. “I had to develop an impulse about where the brand should go.”

Sarkar began by cutting costs last year. The staff was restructured, production costs rationalized, new MBAs recruited for space selling, and the editorial changed drastically to resemble Gentleman’s first phase under founder editor Minhas Merchant. “It is an awareness magazine for men,” explains Sarkar. “It is awareness riding arts and culture.” The literary bent coming into the magazine and the declining gloss is a far cry from the days of Gentleman’s second editor, Manek Davar. “I almost call it a book zine,” says Sarkar. “Manek positioned it for lifestyle and leisure. He tried to make it like GQ. We made a mistake of becoming more like GQ and Esquire. In India, we can’t get Esquire’s circulation to match its content and production quality.”

Man’s World’s head of marketing, Nikhil Seth, sure believes he can. He says Man’s World tries to match Esquire on all possible fronts. If Gentleman is more of a ‘read’ magazine, Man’s World attempts to be a ‘look read’ magazine, according to Radhakrishnan. Given its glossy production quality, Rs 50 was the minimum cover price that the magazine could think of. “The editorial treatment is more tongue in cheek,” believes Seth. One of the magazine’s other strengths, says Radhakrishnan, is its resource pool of columnists that contribute. “We are carrying excerpts from Ruchir Joshi’s latest book which is out only later this year,” he adds. The 164 pager comprises 30 32 paid ads, claims Radhakrishnan. A prominent part of Man’s World’s editorial canvas comprises personality pieces.

The distinguishing factor for IAGT, claims Times’ Carol Andrade, would again lie in the editorial treatment. “Men can be addressed as louts, lads and lords,” she says. “We are taking everyone into consideration.” Times’ confidence is also explained by the half a year old Bombay Times JLT (just like that), a youth (15 22 year old) magazine bearing tremendous resemblance to JAM (just another magazine). “We are selling 16,000 copies in Mumbai,” claims Das. “There is no individual room for youth in most marketers’ plans, but he commands an attitude.”

“This segment will grow as an option for marketers looking for very niche marketing opportunity,
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” believes Radhakrishnan. He explains niche in terms of both the circulation numbers and the editorial scope before men’s magazines. This is again where all three are in agreement. Big numbers for men’s magazines still remain a distant dream. Loyalty of readership is something all three will be gunning for. But only if each begins to exude a distinct personality.