In today’s day and time, when magazine publishing is huffing and puffing, Delhi Press, the group which created a stir in the magazine publishing scene of India, remains a flag bearer. With its publications, including Caravan in English and Sarita in Hindi, it still upholds the old-world concept of what a magazine should be. And this powerful publishing group was created by a non-print, non-publishing young man – a chartered accountant, Vishva Nath in 1939.
Nath launched Caravan, an English literary magazine in 1940. It was an immediate success, enjoying a steady readership. In 1945, he launched the Hindi periodical Sarita, and from the very first issue, it proved to be the favourite household Hindi magazine.
Caravan ran until 1988. After a hiatus of 20 years, the title was revived in 2009 and continues to remain one of the leading cultural magazines of India.
Today, Delhi Press publishes 36 magazines in 10 languages. The group's corporate office is located in central Delhi with 12 regional offices across the country that serve as distribution centres and editorial and advertising offices. The group has been a pioneer in adopting the latest technology in it print facility.
In July 2017, the assets of the company were divided among the second and third generations of Vishva Nath — Paresh Nath, Rakesh Nath, and Divesh Nath. This comprises the immovable assets and print plants in Delhi, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh.
Today, Paresh Nath oversees the Hindi periodicals (except Suman Saurabh) and Caravan; Rakesh Nath handles the group’s book publishing arm Vishv Books;
and Divesh Nath runs Woman’s Era, Alive, Suman Saurabh Hindi, and the group's online media.
A stable of consumer magazines
What makes Delhi Press stand out is its capacity to publish popular consumer magazines for the last 76 years. The group has always maintained affordable cover price of the magazines of the titles while using cost-effective methodology to produce them.
In Hindi, the journey started with Sarita. At the time, there was just one such family magazine in Hindi – Sarswati – started in 1900 by Indian Press, Allahabad. Since its first issue, Sarita remains the flagship magazine of Delhi Press. Over the years, the group has launched a number of magazines that have been just as popular and successful – Mukta, Champak, Grihshobha, Woman's Era, Alive and Saras Salil. These initially catered to the neo-literate audience but soon became popular with other categories of audiences, too.
In 2008, the group launched three new magazines and acquired two established titles. The flagship English title, Caravan, was revived in 2009. This prestigious magazine with its distinctive size, can be defined as a ‘journal of opinion’. It includes a social, political and cultural agenda that attracts select readership.
Integrated distribution network
Amongst the successful magazine publishers of India, Delhi Press is the only publisher to have developed a highly integrated distribution network. The company is in direct contact with more than 3,000 distributors through its 12 distribution offices in several state capitals. The group prints and publishes more than 4.6 million copies of its 36 magazines in 10 languages each month.
Paresh Nath, managing director of the group, expressed concern about the dwindling readership, but he is confident about maintaining dedicated audiences for his magazines.
Nath thinks part of the problem are newspapers with supplements, which have eaten into magazine readership by penetrating deeper into markets through multiple, localised editions at low cover prices. “On top of this, dailies make money from government advertising, unlike magazines. Besides, newspapers have highly advanced distribution equipment integrated with their printing machines,” he adds.
Undoubtedly, the most common impediment for periodicals is the cost of distribution. Magazines rely on postal services. There are never-ending battles between magazine publishers and the postal department about how large the postal concessions should be.
(Second from left) The Caravan is a mixture of socio-political cultural content handled by a group of professional journalists
The future of magazines
Nath argues that the group does not allow stagnation in the content of the periodicals. They keep up with the changing patterns of the society at large so that updated materials are furnished to a dedicated audience.
In 2013, the company purchased the BS Motoring magazine from Business Standard. It also publishes Manohar Kahaniyan and Satya Katha, two popular crime fiction magazines belonging to Mitra Prakashan, an Allahabad-based publishing house. Recently, two other Kannada magazines Butti and Manasa were added to their basket.
Despite everything, Nath says the future of the magazine publishing industry is quite bright due to the growing literacy rate in the country. This is the reason, he says, print runs of popular magazines such as Sarita, Saras Salil and Grih Shobha are growing.
His concern is that the English-medium denizens are not interested in reading magazines or periodicals. However, he rests his hope in neo-literates as they do not have access to social media, Internet etc. Nath feels that the digital version of his long list of magazines will not be as popular its print version, because digital fever is short lived.
The journey of Caravan
While talking about Caravan's odyssey, Nath says it is catering to a dedicated audience with a mixture of socio-political cultural content handled by a group of professional journalists, headed by his son Anant Nath, a graduate from Columbia University in New York.
The group had a long-cherished dream
of starting a daily newspaper, which Vishva Nath, and his eldest son, Naresh Nath had on slate.
“I doubt it will ever happen,” Nath says. He adds that the younger generation has its own style of working, and the company is almost on the verge of dividing responsibilities, be it, editorial, managerial or operational.
The associate company of Delhi Press, named after its founder Vishva Nath, Vishv Books has published over 1,500 titles so far. All these titles are focused on children up to grade eight. These include fiction, non-fiction, women-focused, short stories, encyclopaedias, dictionaries, and world classics.
The company is managed by Rakesh Nath, the third son of Vishva Nath.
“Our books are focused on activity-based learning, with adherence to guidelines laid down by state education boards. Our Early Learner's Series is a unique set of 13 books – for pre-schoolers,” Nath says.
Vishv Books has a variety of general books, which include picture-story books, short story books, colouring books, art and craft books, model-making books, and pop-up books.
“Keeping pace with the changing technology, we have created eBooks for a few titles that are compatible with tablets and mobile phones. Our books are marketed and distributed country wide, besides in other parts of the world like Southeast Asia, Europe, USA, Africa and Mexico. We participate in all the major book fairs held around the globe," he adds.
The legacy of Naresh Nath
Another associate company of the Delhi Press Group is Pramod Engineering, which was started by Naresh Nath, the eldest of the three brothers. A visionary, Naresh Nath was also the managing director of Delhi Press and the publisher of its 36 magazines in 10 languages. He managed the operations with his brothers and elder son Divesh Nath.
This is besides taking up commercial jobs along with running and maintaining multifold operations of printing facilities spread across three states.
Naresh Nath believed that if the post-press operation in the production area is time-consuming, besides being more labour-oriented, it will never be cost-effective. So he envisioned automating all the steps of the process – from the printing stage to the finished product.
Thus, he engineered three cost-effective and economical products – the flow-line (for centre-stitched publications), the gathering-machine and the three-knife trimmer. These three machines, manufactured by Pramod Engineering, took the industry by storm in automating binding operations. As of December 2015, there are more than 315 machines installed in various parts of the country and overseas.
Today, Pramod Engineering is managed by Divesh Nath, who also handles the editorial command of the popular magazines of the group, Woman’s Era, Alive, Suman Saurabh and the online media of the group.