What must newspaper barons do?

24 Sep,2018


By Sam Balsara



Johannes Gutenberg (1400 –1468) can smile on India. Look at the table below:


Print advertising has grown by 142% in the last decade, clocking an average annual growth rate of 9.26% and even today contributes 33% of the growing India Adex. Possibly no other major market can boast of such growth figures or market share. Print has over 2,00,000 advertisers, (not including classifieds and tenders) whilst television has only 12,000. Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC) tells us that the total audited average circulation per day of all newspapers in the last decade grew dramatically from 42 million to 61 million.


Whilst all this no doubt is making Gutenberg smile, it is clear that there are signs of head winds. The percentage contribution of print to Adex has come down over the last decade, though ever so slowly from 41% to 33% today. Last year (2017) which was not a good year for Adex, thanks to the combined effect of demonetisation and goods and service tax (GST), print grew by only 3% and the Pitch Madison annual Advertising Outlook Report projects Print to grow at 5% compared to total Adex which is projected to grow at 12%, in 2018.


English print which dominated Adex all through the 60s until the turn of the century did not grow at all last year. Almost all language newspapers did. But on the positive side, we need to recognise that headroom for growth in print in India is still very high, given that literacy is only at 74% and the new that literacy is only at 74% and the new literates or semi literates can get enticed by the charm of newspaper reading. Whilst sourcing news through digital has become a common practice in the West, its universal adoption in India is still 2-3 decades away, given that vast masses of middle aged and old aged population are not digitally savvy, Reliance Jio notwithstanding. We also need to recognise that we live in a multimedia world, where the target audience multitasks. What matters therefore is not the parameter of share of Adex, but absolute growth in print Adex. What should newspaper barons do? They say only the paranoid survive, so giving due weightage to the head winds, I have 7 suggestions for my newspaper baron friends who have been Lord and Masters virtually ruling their territories and on the back of their vast influence have expanded their empires to cover various industries.


1. Sell print aggressively to advertisers as a medium. Television, Radio and even Digital sell themselves to Advertisers a lot more aggressively, using every trick in the book. Comparatively print seems to be a passive seller.


2. The IRS 2018 highlighted a dramatic fact that total readership of newspapers (Last one month readership) has increased by a dramatic 40%. Unfortunately, what matters to the advertisers in terms of reach is Average Issue Readership (AIR), (because that is the number of readers likely to notice an advertiser’s ad) which has been flat. To take advantage of the increase in total readership, advertisers need to take 3 -4 insertions of the same ad in the same publication in the same month and print media can facilitate this by offering additional insertions at lower prices.


3. Print has become the medium of choice of large advertisers, but only when they have an important news announcement to make, like for a launch, a brand promotion or a price announcement. This considerably restricts use of print by such advertisers. What Print needs to do, is to urgently identify new categories who can use print on a regular basis. Print successfully did that for Real Estate where television failed.


4. Half of the advertising that appears in print displays poor creativity, which diminishes their selling or persuasive power. Print must invest in specialist creative talent for developing print ads to improve ROI on print advertising and offer their services to agencies and advertisers.


5. The cost-plus model for fixing advertising rates adopted by print is hurting the growth of print adex. Print must at least annually review the cost per thousand (CPT) it offers to advertisers and compare its CPT with that offered by other media.


6. Print must re-evaluate the working of INS, the system of Accreditation of Agencies and the MRV system, which puts considerable pressure on cash flow of advertising agencies. When most other media are moving to sequential liability and holding clients accountable for paying on due date, print’s insistence on holding only the agency accountable will have serious consequences in the long run.


7. Whilst it is true that print generally offers higher CPT than most other media, data analysts working for print must identify those situations where print in combination with other media can add additional reach at lower additional cost, than if money was invested in the same medium.


I think it was Bill Gates who said that we overestimate the impact of technology in the short run and under estimate the impact of technology in the long run. In India past experience shows that the short run is not so short. So relax, my print baron friends. But don’t forget to start redefining your business as the business of news / content rather than the business of newspapers.



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