Wooing the new kids on the block

Priti David | Updated on March 03, 2018

To appeal to today’s children, Amar Chitra Katha and Tinkle are planning a big digital push, and have lined up a host of marketing and merchandising options

New-age parenting is all about listening to your kids. Successful children’s print brands, it appears, follow the same rule. Take Future Group brands Amar Chitra Katha (ACK) and Tinkle – one a comic series started for children and the other a children’s magazine. Based on market feedback, both are tweaking editorial and moving into multiple avenues to stay relevant and top-of-mind for their audience. Brand and product extensions and spinning off characters as separate brands have been scripted into the pages of their future.

The magazine market in India is estimated at ₹30,330 crore, according to a KPMG and FICCI Indian Media and Entertainment Industry Report 2017. The media industry is highly fragmented with a number of genres and categories and there is no separate figure for comics and children’s magazines. Both ACK and Tinkle say they have been growing at around 30 per cent per annum, over the last few years. Jatin Varma, founder of ComicCon, a comics and graphics annual festival, says ACK accounts for 50 per cent of sales in its category. Other competitors, but not all strictly in the same category are Delhi Press’ Champak, Diamond Comics, Raj Comics and Campfire, an imprint of Kalyani Navyug Media Ltd.

Be where the children are

The general trend of print media has been to move towards mobile and similar platforms to contain and increase viewership. Future Group’s strategy is no different. As Shriya Ghate, Business Head, Tinkle, puts it: “We have to be relevant and we have to be where kids are – mobiles, Kindle and augmented reality are their future.”

The print issues still grab headlines as far as sales go, but in a few years they expect other categories to catch up. Currently, readers interact first with the print product before they move on to other media, but Future Group says a day may come when their other media or even a game app based on a popular (say) Tinkle character, may draw a child into picking up the magazine.

Both ACK and Tinkle are sensitive to pricing and have ensured that they continue to stay easy on the pocket by creating sub-brands with different price points. For example, the Tinkle magazine sells at ₹30, the Digest at ₹70, the Double Digest at ₹120 and Tinkle character-based comic books at ₹125. Amar Chitra Katha’s single comics are pitched a little higher, and their new offering, ACK Junior, will be priced below ₹100. The newly created magnum opus, a 1,200-page Ramayan comic set, is priced at ₹2,499 and currently accounts for 15 per cent of sales.

The ACK comic was created for Indian children between the ages of eight and 16 years to learn more about their culture. Now it is venturing into different age groups – children as young as four and adults of all ages. For children, there is a spin-off series called ACK Junior (with a single visual per page which makes it easier for younger children to assimilate the storyline). For readers on the go, not only is the comic format easy to assimilate but it’s availability on an app makes it doubly attractive, especially for adults who want a quick and simple guide to cultural history.

ACK does promotional programmes in building societies and schools, besides maintaining a social media presence. It recently launched ACK merchandise where artwork from the brand has been converted to bags, magnets and diaries. Shilpi Mathur, Business Head, Amar Chitra Katha, says: “Fifty to 60 per cent of sales still comes from the retail channel. We also have a great social media presence which helps us to reach like-minded people and to go viral.”

Catch ’em young

It has just crossed the 100 million-copies-mark and there are plans for an international launch in 2018. Unlike earlier times when television was the only competition, printed comics are now pitched against their own online avatars and other media. “Today, before kids walk, they watch videos and by the time the age of reading comes, you’ve already been bombarded by different media. We need to get in there early,” points out Anuraag Agarwal, Head of Business Development, Strategy, Mergers & Acquisitions at the Future Group.

Meanwhile, sister publication Tinkle – the 37-year-old children’s magazine – went from being a monthly to a fortnightly based on feedback and greater demand. It sells three lakh copies a month (including Tinkle Digest), and is looking at licensing and animation of its popular characters – Shikhari Shambhu, Suppandi, Kali the Crow and Tantri – spinning them off as new brands endorsed by the mother brand Tinkle. The Kindle version was launched in time for Christmas and a television series is expected soon.

Tinkle is planning to leverage its characters with licensing agreements across merchandise and television. Sanjay Dhar, President of ACK Media, says they must move beyond the magazine if they are to grow, but he adds, “Magazine subscription is important as it establishes the relationship and creates the pull.” Editorial decisions are guided by current sensibilities such as no blood and gore for children below 10 years, greater diversity and doing away with regressive stereotypes.

For both ACK comics and Tinkle, growth in the next editions is going to come from innovation. Product and brand extensions, spinning off characters as independent brands endorsed by Tinkle, creating apps and launching on mobile platforms are going to be the page turners in the coming years.

Brand synergy

Both brands were started by the maverick late Anant Pai, who was not just editor but also a marketing genius who was known to carry a wooden plank and nails in case a shopkeeper complained of lack of shelf space to showcase his beloved comics! His perseverance paid off and ACK comics would go on to sell 100 million copies in 36 languages, including foreign ones.

Pai started Tinkle, a children’s magazine packed with stories and information about science, general knowledge, jokes and mysteries, as a good fit for his ACK comic. Tinkle has an interesting mix of editorial content: current affairs, DIY craft and recipes, Word Play, book and movie reviews.

It keeps an eagle eye on feedback by mail as well as in interactive sessions in book fests, school contact programmes and such events. They carry letters prominently so that children feel invested in the magazine. In its long innings, the brand has tried to steer clear of edutainment. “We want to provide good clean fun and we make every effort to introduce diversity of region, gender, culture and skin colour,” says Rajani Thindiath, Editor-in-Chief at Tinkle.

Published on March 02, 2018

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