Aroon Purie
India
Aroon Purie
  • Chairman and Editor-in-Chief, India Today Group (Media, Entertainment)
Born Lahore, Pakistan, 1944. BSc, London School of Economics and Political Science (1965)
“I always looked at the magazine from the reader’s point of view, always asking, “Can I understand what this article is saying?” A lot of journalists write for other journalists, or they write for politicians. But the common man needs context, needs explanation, needs history, and background. I brought that into it.”

Summary

In this interview, Aroon Purie, Chairman and Editor-in-Chief of the India Today Group, reflects on the unusual trajectory of his career—he began as a chartered accountant in London and ended up leading one of India’s largest and most successful media companies.

His family’s business began rather serendipitously in the 1960s, when his father—who was then in the film industry—was approached his friend, newspaper baron Roy Thomson, about expanding his printing business into India. Foreign investment in media was prohibited in India at that time, so Purie’s father agreed to become a partner in a joint venture, establishing Thomson Press India. Purie joined the business some years later, after becoming fed up with auditing and accounting, and his unique skillset proved valuable to his father’s business—which was struggling to make a profit in a capital-intensive industry. The problem, as Purie explains, was that the printing press was operating on a contract to contract basis, bidding for each new job in turn, and thus had significant time spent idle. “That’s how the idea of publishing came,” he says. He realized that the company needed to generate and distribute its own content, rather than relying out outside sources.

Purie goes on to discuss some of the company’s early forays into the publishing business, including a line of children’s books and magazines. He also tells the story of the group’s most well-known magazine, India Today. It was originally conceived as a publication for the Indian diaspora abroad, he explains, but due to the logistical challenges of marketing and distributing to far-flung consumers, the company rebranded the publication as a news magazine and floated it in the domestic Indian market. Launching during the time of the Emergency, in 1975, the magazine faced strict content restrictions due to censorship, but survived with a reasonable following. Everything changed in 1977, when the Emergency ended and censorship was lifted. “That’s the point when India Today really took off,” Purie says. In the interview, Purie discusses some of the factors that made his publication stand out from the competition, and how India Today worked to create a distinct identity for itself as a high-quality, reputable source for news.

Over time, India Today expanded from print publications into video, television, and finally digital media. Purie discusses each phase of the transition, the motivating factors, as well as the challenges faced at each step and how the group overcame them. As Editor-in-Chief, Purie was closely involved shaping the content and image of India Today. In the interview, he relates how he always pushed employees to write for the average Indian—to make their stories clear and understandable not just to professionals or specialists, but to the common man. He also encouraged his reporters to pursue their stories rigorously—like an accountant conducting an audit—so that no stone was left unturned and every detail was accounted for. Although he says his exacting standards were sometimes begrudged by his staff, the staff recognized that “the end result was good product” and even came up with a friendly nickname for the editing process—“Purification”—after him.

Purie concludes the interview by discussing some of the challenges facing the publishing industry, including competition from giants like Google, Apple, and Facebook, and the struggle to create revenue streams in a time when most people are not willing to pay for online content.

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In this interview, Aroon Purie, Chairman and Editor-in-Chief of the India Today Group, reflects on the unusual trajectory of his career—he began as a chartered accountant in London and ended up leading one of India’s largest and most successful media companies.

His family’s business began rather serendipitously in the 1960s, when his father—who was then in the film industry—was approached his friend, newspaper baron Roy Thomson, about expanding his printing business into India. Foreign investment in media was prohibited in India at that time, so Purie’s father agreed to become a partner in a joint venture, establishing Thomson Press India. Purie joined the business some years later, after becoming fed up with auditing and accounting, and his unique skillset proved valuable to his father’s business—which was struggling to make a profit in a capital-intensive industry. The problem, as Purie explains, was that the printing press was operating on a contract to contract basis, bidding for each new job in turn, and thus had significant time spent idle. “That’s how the idea of publishing came,” he says. He realized that the company needed to generate and distribute its own content, rather than relying out outside sources.

Purie goes on to discuss some of the company’s early forays into the publishing business, including a line of children’s books and magazines. He also tells the story of the group’s most well-known magazine, India Today. It was originally conceived as a publication for the Indian diaspora abroad, he explains, but due to the logistical challenges of marketing and distributing to far-flung consumers, the company rebranded the publication as a news magazine and floated it in the domestic Indian market. Launching during the time of the Emergency, in 1975, the magazine faced strict content restrictions due to censorship, but survived with a reasonable following. Everything changed in 1977, when the Emergency ended and censorship was lifted. “That’s the point when India Today really took off,” Purie says. In the interview, Purie discusses some of the factors that made his publication stand out from the competition, and how India Today worked to create a distinct identity for itself as a high-quality, reputable source for news.

Over time, India Today expanded from print publications into video, television, and finally digital media. Purie discusses each phase of the transition, the motivating factors, as well as the challenges faced at each step and how the group overcame them. As Editor-in-Chief, Purie was closely involved shaping the content and image of India Today. In the interview, he relates how he always pushed employees to write for the average Indian—to make their stories clear and understandable not just to professionals or specialists, but to the common man. He also encouraged his reporters to pursue their stories rigorously—like an accountant conducting an audit—so that no stone was left unturned and every detail was accounted for. Although he says his exacting standards were sometimes begrudged by his staff, the staff recognized that “the end result was good product” and even came up with a friendly nickname for the editing process—“Purification”—after him.

Purie concludes the interview by discussing some of the challenges facing the publishing industry, including competition from giants like Google, Apple, and Facebook, and the struggle to create revenue streams in a time when most people are not willing to pay for online content.

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Video Clips by Topic

Diversification

Aroon Purie, Chairman and Editor-in-Chief of India Today, describes diversifying first into different magazine variations by launching regional editions of India Today, Business Today, men’s health, and moving into women’s lifestyle magazines and acquiring Cosmopolitan. He then diversified into different forms of media by creating news video cassettes called “News Track” before the emergence of cable television, this progressed to be shown on Doordarshan after a successful bid, and eventually transformed into “Aaj Tak”, a 24-hours news channel in the year 2000.


Government & Business

Aroon Purie, Chairman and Editor-in-Chief of India Today, discusses the relationship between the Indian government and the media, the importance of the freedom of press, and the duty of journalists to report accurate source-based stories.


Government Regulation

Aroon Purie, Chairman and Editor-in-Chief of India Today, explains the opening of the Indian economy and suggests that the major drivers of economic growth have not been government policies but rather due to a series of revolutions in the IT industry, the auto industry, telecommunications, and satellite television.


Marketing & Advertising

Aroon Purie, Chairman and Editor-in-Chief of India Today, discusses the importance of producing valuable content that people are willing to pay for when moving to digital magazines rather than print and the role that social media plays in advertising.


Family Business

Aroon Purie, Chairman and Editor-in-Chief of India Today, explains his changing role in the leadership of his business, the appointment of his daughter as vice-chairman, and the downsides of having a family business.


Global Expansion

Aroon Purie, Chairman and Editor-in-Chief of India Today, discusses why the trend towards nationalism and the backlash against globalization cannot be permanent situations.


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Additional Resources

Additional Resources

Interview Citation Format

Interview with Aroon Purie, interviewed by Sunil Gupta, Delhi, India, October 24, 2017, Creating Emerging Markets Project, Baker Library Historical Collections, Harvard Business School, http://www.hbs.edu/creating-emerging-markets/.