Outgoing President & Publisher of Outlook Group describes his role at the Group as owner rather than employee, during a conversation with Shree Lahiri
Maheshwar Peri, who has decided to step down as President & Publisher of the Outlook Group to devote more time to his own publishing venture Pathfinders, will remain with the group till March 31, 2012 and thereafter don the role of its mentor. Significantly, there will not be a complete break with the company. We caught up with Peri at his Safdarjung Enclave office as he talked about his experience with the Outlook Group and the road ahead.
Q] Your association with the Outlook Group can be traced back to the launch of Outlook in 1995. How has the experience been?
It has been a complete roller-coaster ride. Outlook is a baby for me. I just can’t imagine waking up one day to realize that I’m not part of Outlook at all. In fact, I got married first to Outlook! If I were to separate my life into two phases, it would definitely be pre-Outlook and post- Outlook. It was a most difficult decision that I had to take, for by the time I will leave in March, it will be 17 years. It’s almost a lifetime. I had joined when I was a 24-year-old and most people move on after spending a few years on the job. As Vinod Mehta put it, you don’t find better promoters to work for than the Rajan Raheja Group. It’s been a pleasure working with them. Here you don’t feel like an employee, but you have that sense of ownership, you feel like an owner.
Q] Are you satisfied with what you have accomplished or is there something left unaccomplished?
There’s the digital side that has not been explored. We have not worked out a strategy to leverage this.
Q] How are the other magazines in the group faring, apart from Outlook?
Outlook Business is No 2, Outlook Traveller is No 1, Outlook Money is No 1, News Weekly is No 2, People is No 2. Anything we have launched is No 1 or No 2.
Q] Where do you think the publishing business has reached today?
One has to wait and see how tablets and androids work out. For now, shows and content can be purchased by anyone. On the Internet, free content has failed all over the world. The scope for magazines is immense on the tablet. Each tablet is a ‘kiosk’ for us. That’s what we need to crack, with zero incremental costs.
Q] Sensationalism and ethics in journalism today are hotly debated topics. Your take on this?
Genuine news cannot be called sensational. It can be genuine and can have an impact on society. Are the Radia tapes sensational? Ask the common man – he knows what it is. If news is correct and factual it creates impact, and it’s not whether it results in sensationalism. The important thing is we need to question ourselves as journalists. We question Parliament, judiciary and the media. There are accountability parameters. When you are caught in the gambling den, you have to come clean! Ultimately we stand up for values. The nation was outraged at that point of time. The government was forced to act, and that happened because of the tapes!
Q] When you announced your plan to leave the Outlook Group, you said you needed to “concentrate fully on the new venture – Pathfinder Publications”...
As publisher of Outlook, I was dealing with politics and news. But I want to see if I can hold the hands of students and take them somewhere. I have written on education and my passion is education. It’s closer to what I feel I should do. It’s a great challenge. The question is how do I reach out to the remotest corners, and do things that no one has attempted in India? We are completely content-driven; no one is investing in content as much as we are doing. We have a team of 40 people creating content. We have to see how to reach this to the interiors.
Q] We see the impact of the economic slowdown all around us. How do you think it will impact the publishing industry?
All of us have geared up for this slowdown. When it happened in 2008, it was a surprise. This time it is not a surprise, we are prepared.
Q] There was the controversy about IIPM’s case againstCareers 360 and in August 2011, the court verdict in your favour. Do you foresee more controversies in future?
For sure you will see controversy. At that time, what was brought in was the fact that there is a watchdog watching. Many students write to us when they see a problem. In fact, every month, we get 5 to 6 serious issues and we take up at least one. If I cannot stand up for a student, I may as well cease to exist.