Written by: Shalini Gupta
About the author: Innovative Product and Marketing Evangelist│Ex-VP Brand Head Inox, Lokmat│Ex-CMO Reliance Broadcast | Regional PR & Brand Head – Bharti Airtel
Covid-19 pandemic has adversely affected the Indian print media sector leading to existential crisis for the industry, redefining consumer reading habits and consumption of news. With a significant decline in readership, due to dwindling advertisements or a serious disruption in circulation of newspapers and magazines, different media houses have been forced to take extreme steps – from splitting the number of pages, salary cuts, leave without pay for employees or even resorting to shutting down their editions & layoffs. And this onslaught didn’t spare even the editorial teams, the backbone of any newspaper/ print media.
With lockdown forcing business discontinuity, especially newspaper circulation was hit by the touch factor. The essential commodity status got altered as a result of hygiene and delivery processes intervened with the very ethos of social distancing. Newspapers require bundling after they are printed, made into batches or folders and stacked on trucks, a process which employs human services with deftness and agility at the wee hours of the morning. This human touch made this essential commodity a nondescript element during this lockdown thus resulting in a severe hit in circulation, newspaper delivery at homes and apartments. Beyond the employees working in an organisation, the entire ecosystem such as vehicles, couriers and logistics suffered during this time.
It is said, challenges enable one to innovate and create an opportunity. Indian newspapers sure have a great story to tell here. Being an ardent admirer of this industry; having started my corporate life from a print media, I have experienced the design or edit studio, the final touches to the story, release of pages to the printing press, conversion to digital plates, the copies coming out in succession and regular duels between circulation and advertising departments. Often special pages would get delayed due to delay in advertisements making sales and circulation teams always be at loggerheads. Something that still exists however due to digitisation, a lot of tricks have been discovered between both the departments to ensure the smooth flow of advertisements to enhance revenue. Though sales would argue it is they who run a newspaper, the editorial would always say what they write create opinions and influences minds or generations of tomorrow, and lucky readers as us love to indulge the continuation of this healthy debate.
Coming back to the main point, this lockdown led to some innovations. Starting from the newspaper drive towards circulating e papers through special agents, non-charging executives or even corporates who would wish to send to their HNI customers. Which is when interesting a local newspaper as Mid-Day turned a national one as now their newspaper could be sent to anywhere in the country and advertisers would know exactly the digital reach and could be charged basis that. An online version with subscription also started. It helped the newspapers reach the readers but almost at less than 50% revenue. Of course a lot of regional newspapers had to shut shop due to lack of even the small time revenue from local business as a stoppage of everything to their closure. However a lot of them turned digital, even regional leaders as Lokmat created an upsurge in video stories and news. Most heart-warming is when an English daily as Hindustan Times decides to change its logo and positioning during this lockdown making a bold statement. Also the national iconic leader as Times of India stood relevant with the Special online Ganesha concept and printed a special feature with additional pages on Ganesh Chaturthi.
Earlier we were all pampered to keep aside a good 15-20 mins daily in the morning with our cuppa and newspaper. A generation has grown seeing their parents catch up in the morning with newspapers at hand, earlier ones would remember listening to All India Radio news early morning. Today’s youngsters are growing up seeing adults without the physical paper and glancing into the mobile or laptop for reading the morning news. The volume of stories, the breaking news on online print continues to be 1st to report.
However in the age of endless shouting and bickering on Television, print or perhaps, online print as we may call today, definitely rules and shall continue to do so. Sometime back print was ridden off when digital spends became higher. As per the last Pitch Madison Interim report of 2020, print definitely had a 18% drop in print advertising share in Q2 over previous year and overall they de-grew by 79%. However the market is hopeful, we are eager to get the feel of the newspaper back in spite of getting online updates and connected to at least 8-10 sites. It is a major platform of advertisement for small retailers building local connect or generating leads. As everyone loves reading in their own language and about news nearer home too. We hope that print will surely tide over this and pave the way to remain untouched and breaking news online! Newer strategies, newer structures, newer sustainability methods to watch out for in near future!