Sanjeev Kotnala: Blame it on the Publisher for decreasing Press Advertising

22 Oct,2014

By Sanjeev Kotnala


The acid test of newspaper advertising is really Dhanteras, the festival where the one-has-to-buy mentality supersedes every economic parameter and pocket size. When retail, regional and corporate clients fight to fill up the prime sqcm in the leading newspapers. A period when the print salesperson feels a bit more wanted and in demand, a time when the newspaper used to be completely unreadable.


This is not just another year. It is a special year.


In this very first year of e-retailing crossfire, the newspapers along with retail have lost some shine.  The bottom of the pyramid has joined the top in e-buying the most socialistic democratic approach to buying. The RBI Governor is sounding positive and expecting things to be better.


On the other side, in Metros and Tier-II towns, retailers are openly complaining of thinning traffic. Many brands are blaming e-retailers for selling at unheard prices and eroding their brand image. Malls are looking like deserted decade-old single screens. There is no festivity in the seller’s voice. The retailer in its attempt to remain in the system is trying to get hold of remaining money in so that he can pay financiers and lenders at the end of season. There are visible signs of future that are tough to negate. The future that is definitely not too distant.


This Dhanteras, the mainline newspapers were of 32 to 56 pages, much lower than last year making them a bit manageable to hold. Surprisingly the advertisers, INS or the Ministry of Environment have never attempted to define the limit for maximum number of pages in a newspaper. Maybe this is also an area of self-regulation.


It would be stupid to believe that additional pages are meant to balance the edit- ad ratio. The newspaper on such festival dates with uninspiring creative and traditionally-led media planning/ buying is not something a reader wants. It is maybe worth researching, if given a choice, would the reader not want to drop the newspaper on such days.


‘Multiple false front pages’ (ads) in newspaper is no longer an unheard phenomenon. Alarmingly, some of the well-known centers have gone without false front page! Time to introspect.


In the titles that managed false front pages, brands have not advertised across editions. This clearly shows a positive shift towards buying of select editions. I am sure that media agencies have nothing to contribute in this change.


Unexplained is the phenomenon of clients and agencies blindly buying into multiple front pages? There is a huge consumer apathy and immunity developed against such formats. They are worse than the inserts; at least inserts are picked up before being discarded.


Inside the newspaper, you faced consecutive pages with little or no edit. Pages with multiple medium- and small-sized advertisements closely packed together. This is hardly conducive for easy reading or referring.


The right hand ad placement continues. Result traditional wisdom blindly followed by clients and agencies and patronized by publications. Time to realize that the newspaper is neither held nor read like a magazine. What the clients should have been demanding is placement next to interesting content and news.


Everything in newspaper advertising seems to defy logic. So, for the print to still hold its fort for a bit longer than predicted, few things must feature in its To-Do List.


Instead of propagating digital, newspaper bodies like INMA, INS along with the MRUC, should have the courage to do primary free-to-circulate research. Identify individually the new best print practices for advertisers and publishers.  Rationalize the real impact of ad placement, multiple ad placement or multiplier effect with other medium.


May be it’s time that full-page ads are banned and there is a diktat for a minimum 20% edit per page and 30% collectively. This is a must to increase print ROI and fight the growing reader apathy.


Do a favour to advertisers and in turn to readers by pushing for solus 35*5 or 30*6 and charge special premium for surrounding it with interesting edit/ features/ news content. I am in no way suggesting paid news.


Create an internal regulatory body that defines the advertisement-edit ratio, the maximum pages allowed for any publication and even not-more-than one false front page policy before a government regulatory body is created for just this purpose.  May be this will help revive interest in print more than pushing sales.


I am sure that Print and TV will co-exist with Digital for a long time. But to co-exist happily, print must rejuvenate and recreate itself. May be time to realize ‘What got you here won’t take you there’

NOTE: My reference material is yesterday’s e-papers of top titles. Times of India – Mumbai and Delhi, HT – Delhi and Mumbai, HH – Delhi- Ranchi and Patna, Dainik Bhaskar – Jaipur, Raipur, Bhopal, Chandigarh and  Ranchi, and Dainik Jagran – Lucknow, Kanpur and Patna. There are a few other  publications and their lead editions that have been considered. I must confess I have indulged in the back-of-envelope calculation and banked on an overall visual impression and my memories of the past years. I have stayed away from circulation revenue to compensate the ad revenue loss as that is another story and subject needing a second examination.



Sanjeev Kotnala is Head Catalyst at INTRADIA and believes that the best way forward for an organization is to enhance internal teams potential. To contact e-mail or tweet at s_kotnala


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