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How Kalnirnay’s calendar is keeping up with the times

Taneesha Kulshrestha

"Mobile and web apps are the fastest way to reach NRIs who use our almanac to stay connected with their roots" — Jayraj Salgaonkar, MD, Sumangal Press

The calendar means a lot to me,” writes Canada-based Priyank Thatte in his blog. “It’s almost a part of who I am and part of my upbringing and culture. It makes me nostalgic, and in a place where everything is ‘foreign’, this is one of the few things that is not.” Thatte’s post, and many others like his, is about Kalnirnay, the calmanac (calendar + almanac) that’s been a staple in millions of Indian households for nearly 40 years. Kalnirnay, the Hindu panchang presented in a format that is convenient for general public consumption, is the largest-selling publication of its kind in the world.

For decades, Indians settled around the world either searched among desi stores for elusive stockists or asked relatives and friends to bring the latest copy on their visits. In the last couple of years, they’ve eased up on their demands. Mumbai’s Sumangal Press, the publisher of the almanac, is now focusing on a digital push to drive its business forward. It has introduced digital versions of the calendar that can be downloaded on laptops, tablets and mobile phones anywhere.

It’s about time. Kalnirnay’s almanacs have near-iconic status among followers of Hindu calendars but, really, wall calendars are an anachronism in an increasingly tech world. They’ve already moved from prominent display in the living room to behind the kitchen door. And increasingly, consumers, especially those from outside India, want the ease of checking dates and times at their fingertips. Indeed, the Kalnirnay management points out that most customers who wrote in for deliveries asked if they could find the calmanac online.

“The demand for our calendars has steadily risen with the rise in the number of NRIs and people of Indian origin, especially among those in and over their 30s,” says Jayraj Salgaonkar, MD, Sumangal Press. “Some of them are even more rooted in tradition than people in India! For them, our almanac has become a way of staying connected with Hindu cultural traditions. We realise that digital and mobile applications are the fastest and most convenient way to reach these people.”

Three years ago, the company started running digital editions for the net and about a year ago, it launched applications for the iPhone, Android and Symbian platforms. Now, Kalnirnay’s digital editions see 100,000 downloads every month. An iPhone download comes for $3, the same as a direct download from the company’s website; on the Android platform, it’s priced at $2. More than 50% of the international downloads happen out of the US and that figure, too, is steadily increasing. 

New lines of business

“Not only can customers get a copy of the almanac, they can also raise online queries for an auspicious mahurat (time) and tithi (date), ask for their janamkundlis (horoscopes), or ask to match them [horoscopes] for marriages,” says Salgaonkar, explaining Kalnirnay’s next line of digital business. Soft or hard copies are delivered anywhere in the world at ₹49-449, depending on the nature of the service. The second brother, Jayendra Salgaonkar, also an astrologer, manages this business (another brother, Jayanand, is in charge of operations and the press). A five-member team runs this operation, which is currently notching up revenue of ₹50 lakh every month. Salgaonkar says international buyers comprise under 20% of total sales, but are growing at 50% annually. 

Unexpectedly, in India, eastern regions beyond Kolkata fetch the maximum queries. “We had thought most queries would come from Maharashtra and around north Indian states like UP, Bihar and Rajasthan but, to our surprise, we got a lot of queries from places such as Guwahati,” says Salgaonkar. “As this business is now reaching a critical mass, we may soon follow it up with a marketing campaign.”

In three years, Kalnirnay expects its digital operations to become its biggest revenue spinner while digital downloads are expected to grow the business in international markets. Salgaonkar says, “The entire digital business is growing at 30% annually and revenues from this segment could go up to ₹5 crore a month over the next three-five years.” This income alone will then exceed the group’s current revenue. “We realise that this is the direction to take for ensuring Kalnirnay’s future growth,” says Salgaonkar. He adds that the company will also try to push deeper into the Hindi heartland and establish the brand firmly there. But pitching and marketing its digital business will be a key part of the company’s growth strategy both in India and abroad.  

Present and Future

At first glance, the need for entering the digital space isn’t obvious. The publication has not looked back since Jayantrao Salgaonkar, Kalnirnay’s founder, started the business in 1973. From an initial print run of 10,000 copies priced at ₹1.25 apiece, today its print run is of over 15 million copies. The calendar is also exported to West Asia, the US, the UK, Australia and Hong Kong.

Various language editions and its widespread distribution network ensure mass reach. The information at the back of the calendar is also a differentiator — Kalnirnay carries add-ons like railway schedules and home-based remedies. This reach has given it a solid revenue foundation. Today, the ₹55-crore company’s main source of revenue is advertising. Whereas a print copy retailing for ₹25 drums up thin margins, a full-page advertisement on the back of the 10-page calendar costs ₹30 lakh and features big-name advertisers like Hindustan Unilever, Reliance, HSBC, Parle and SBI. “Even educated and well-to-do people refer to auspicious dates and times, say, to start a business or purchase a vehicle and so on,” says Punitha Arumugam, CEO of Madison Media, a media, communication and analytics firm. “Advertising in Kalnirnay makes for a good investment for any brand.”

But Kalnirnay realises that it needs to keep up with the needs of the modern consumer. Salgaonkar says that the way people consume information has changed. “People want information at the click of a button,” he notes, adding it’s the reason why viewers on the Kalnirnay site can browse month-wise, look up predictions, set reminders, or find out more about rituals or the origin of a festival.

“The decision to go digital is the right thing to do,” says Kedar Gavane, director, ComScore. “This way offline brands can follow their audience as they migrate to digital platforms.” Salgaonkar says the challenge for any brand is to stay relevant to the younger generation. “I need to make sure that I build a brand presence in the minds of the 20- to 30-year-old women who will be starting and managing a house next,” he says. In this scenario, a digital strategy becomes even more imperative.

For businesses that sell information, going on the digital platform makes more sense as young people take to the web and mobile easily, and they are the future consumers. BBH India’s managing partner Raj Kamble says a well thought-out digital strategy will help make the brand more youth-centric and relevant. “Kalnirnay needs to become a more cool and modern brand,” he adds. 

An innovative and popular digital presence will help. Therein lies a real opportunity to become the modern face of Indian tradition. If Kalnirnay plays its cards right, this could mean big bucks, too.

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