The Indian newspaper industry was struggling even before the Covid pandemic hit the world and the Indian economy in early 2020. The pandemic and the first phase of the lockdown dealt a body blow to the already struggling industry as distribution came to a halt in many of the big cities. The 2019-2020 financial year was a virtual washout as both circulation and advertising revenue dropped sharply.
Circulation and advertising revenues have picked up in the 2021-2022 financial year but are still much below pre-pandemic levels. In an environment of stagnant circulation, the industry will need to find new and innovative ways to boost revenues. “Newspapers will not die in a hurry given the size of our country. However, the industry’s growth has plateaued and newspaper publishers will need to innovate to attract and retain readers and advertisers,” says Rajiv Gandotra, founder of Technicon India.
Mumbai-based Technicon is India’s leading manufacturer of machines used in the press mailroom such as inserters, overhead newspaper conveyors, counter stackers, under wrappers, plastic bundle wrappers, online sheet under layers, van loading telescopic loaders, flow turns, and log stackers. Technicon began its operations with Malayala Manorama as its first customer. With more than one and half decades of evolution and growth, the company now counts all the major daily newspapers as its customers. It has supplied its mailroom and automation equipment to national dailies such as The Hindustan Times, The Times of India, DNA, Dainik Bhaskar, and Dainik Jagran, among many others. Almost 90% of its customers are regional or Indian language dailies.
Mailrooms can add to revenues
In India, news mailroom operations such as supplement insertion are still done manually. Gandotra says that for the mailroom to become a revenue-generating department, newspapers will have to keep on automating. “Technicon will not quit the newspaper industry as it is very close to my heart and the company has a large number of automated innovations developed when it comes to mailroom solutions. I believe the newspaper can still manage to increase revenues by going in for further automation of their mailrooms,” Gandotra asserts.
He adds that newspapers should think of new ways of attracting readers’ attention and hence more advertisers. In 2020, the company officially launched a solution that does just this, by supplying its pouch and die-cut memo advertisement sticking machine to The Times of India (Bennet-Coleman) group. The Harrier machine, as it is known, has for the first time automated the process of sticking both pouches and memo advertisements on newspapers. The machine is installed and working at The Times of India’s Kandivali plant on the outskirts of Mumbai.
The company also launched its online rotary knife trimmer for booklets around the same time it unveiled the Harrier. This machine is for newspapers who bring out quarter folded books or booklets as supplements. Numerous dailies produce such books with low pagination that are printed in one go. The books directly enter the online rotary trimmer from the press folder which trims all three sides at press speeds and then enters the optional counter stacker where they are counted and stacked – ready for dispatch.
The machine completely automates the three-side trimming process for booklets while requiring zero manpower. “Products like our Harrier are already developed and successfully running in the market. Now we are looking to develop something new,” Gandotra says.
Newspaper circulation to hit pre-pandemic levels in 2022-2023
While the significant drop in newspaper circulation in 2020-2021 recovered in 2021-2022 it is still below pre-pandemic levels. Gandotra suggests it will take some more time for the circulation to get back to what it was before the pandemic.
“Both the North and South Indian markets are recovering fast when it comes to circulation. However, many advertisers have been gravitating towards digital marketing platforms. The lockdown and the consequent boom in digital have driven this change. But I believe that advertisers will also come back. I also hope the newspaper publishers regain their confidence to make new investments. But that may not happen until the 2022-2023 financial year,” Gandotra concludes.