Indian print media to lose Rs 18,000 crore in FY 20-21

The shape of the Indian print news media recovery

Dainik Jagran
Leading Indian print news media, the hindi daily Dainik Jagran

To look at the recovery of Indian print media, let’s first look at the pandemic and the economic recovery. In most of July and August 2020, we saw a gradual removal of the drastic nation-wide lockdown initiated on 24 March to gain time on the Covid-19 pandemic. On 7 September, the Delhi Metro will begin limited operations with suitable precautions – perhaps the boldest experiment in the New Delhi NCR since the epidemic.

We haven’t been able to level the pandemic’s upward curve. Keep in mind that the Covid-19 cases increase daily by more than 83,000 in India, the highest daily rate in the world, and now exceed 4 million. Of these 4 million cases, almost one million are still not recovered, and statistically, 70,000 have already died because of the virus. The daily death count is over 1,000. Many are not alarmed by these numbers, especially when comparing them to the toll of traffic deaths or death from tuberculosis or farmers’ suicides.

For many sectors of the economy, such as aviation, hospitality, exhibitions, conventions, real estate, organized retail, and printed news media, the pandemic, and the ensuing lockdown is a death knell. And the un-lockdown with its lack of stimulus implies a condition from which they are unlikely to recover for a long time, if ever.

Financial print media does better than general news media

While the newspapers’ pagination has returned to anywhere from 10 to 20 pages on most days in July and August, circulation remains stuck at low levels, especially in the big cities. There is anecdotal information about readers having given up printed newspapers totally and other stories of homebound software engineers reading printed papers for the first time. While web traffic has increased, digital monetization has not.

Anecdotally, one has observed that the financial dailies have recovered their pagination better in the past two months than the general news dailies. The Business Standard has done exceptionally well in these months, often exceeding the English national dailies’ pagination. On many days it has surpassed 24 pages while some of the other financial dailies remained anemic. The Financial Express has also done well, reaching 32 pages occasionally, while its sister mainstream English daily could only muster 20 pages.

The financial dailies that have thickened themselves have found a sweet spot rate wise for the statutory display ads. These often running to multiple pages for a single company reporting on company earnings and announcements. (Ad rates throughout the industry have crashed, but there is no getting away from the statutory need to publish in print, financial display ads, and government ads.)

Indian news media – facts versus anecdotes

However, suppose one looks for evidence-based on hard facts. In that case, one has to look at the three print news media organizations listed on the stock exchange and compelled to publish their quarterly financials – HT Media, DB Group, and Jagran Prakashan. Compared to the same quarter of the previous financial year, the Q1 (April, May, June) sales of HT Media were down by 71%; of Jagran Prakashan 67.3%; and DB Group 64.5%.

Further published evidence comes from raw material consumption, which was at an all-time low in Q1 and which continues to be low. Jagran Prakashan reported its Q1 consumption of raw materials at Rs. 59.72 crore compared to Q1 2019, reportedly at Rs. 175.64 crores. This represents a decrease in raw material consumption (which we presume is mainly newsprint but would also likely include offset plates and ink) of 65.99%.

We have spoken to several news publishers, and while some are optimistic about improving circulation to some extent and ads to a greater extent, there is consensus that the numbers at the end of the financial year will not come back to even 80 or 90% of the previous year. Even if the pandemic subsides and the economy revives, there is no certainty for the print news media industry.

Given that there may be a holiday season bump in advertising in Q3 and the pandemic could subside in Q4 when we look at newsprint consumption that was already depressed coming into this year, we are looking at 50% of the consumption compared to a year ago. Revenues may recover to 55% or 60% of the last year across the industry. Although some will do better, many will do worse. In other words, the back of the envelope calculation says we are looking at a loss of Rs. 18,000 crore (US$ 2.5 billion) of revenues in the print news media in the country this year.

This article has been slightly edited for readability on 6 September 2020, no numbers or cited information has been changed.

Indian Printer and Publisher is one of the publications supporting World News Day and we will be publishing shared stories from around the world with an emphasis on stories from the Indian newsrooms such as The Hindu Business Line, The Quint, and The Indian Express that have made their stories available, as well as a couple of our own stories.World News Day 2020

Our own stories concerning the education, publishing and print industries that we are putting forward to share in the celebration of World News Day are:
Indian government Stop Print! by Shardul Sharma 
Indian media fatalities to virus exceed those to violence by Nava Thakuria Indian print media to lose Rs 18,000 crore in FY 20-21 by Naresh Khanna The end of the great international trade shows? by Ron Augustin

2023 promises an interesting ride for print in India

Indian Printer and Publisher founded in 1979 is the oldest B2B trade publication in the multi-platform and multi-channel IPPGroup. While the print and packaging industries have been resilient in the past 33 months since the pandemic lockdown of 25 March 2020, the commercial printing and newspaper industries have yet to recover their pre-Covid trajectory.

The fragmented commercial printing industry faces substantial challenges as does the newspaper industry. While digital short-run printing and the signage industry seem to be recovering a bit faster, ultimately their growth will also be moderated by the progress of the overall economy. On the other hand book printing exports are doing well but they too face several supply-chain and logistics challenges.

The price of publication papers including newsprint has been high in the past year while availability is diminished by several mills shutting down their publication paper and newsprint machines in the past four years. Indian paper mills are also exporting many types of paper and have raised prices for Indian printers. To some extent, this has helped in the recovery of the digital printing industry with its on-demand short-run and low-wastage paradigm.

Ultimately digital print and other digital channels will help print grow in a country where we are still far behind in our paper and print consumption and where digital is a leapfrog technology that will only increase the demand for print in the foreseeable future. For instance, there is no alternative to a rise in textbook consumption but this segment will only reach normality in the next financial year beginning on 1 April 2023.

Thus while the new normal is a moving target and many commercial printers look to diversification, we believe that our target audiences may shift and change. Like them, we will also have to adapt with agility to keep up with their business and technical information needs.

Our 2023 media kit is ready, and it is the right time to take stock and reconnect with your potential markets and customers. Print is the glue for the growth of liberal education, new industry, and an emerging economy. We seek your participation in what promises to be an interesting ride.

– Naresh Khanna

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Editor of Indian Printer and Publisher since 1979 and Packaging South Asia since 2007. Trained as an offset printer and IBM 360 computer programmer. Active in the movement to implement Indian scripts for computer-aided typesetting. Worked as a consultant and trainer to the Indian print and newspaper industry. Visiting faculty of IDC at IIT Powai in the 1990s. Also founder of IPP Services, Training and Research and has worked as its principal industry researcher since 1999. Author of book: Miracle of Indian Democracy.


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