Is it sunrise for the language print media in India?

On the ABC resuming its audit and the power of regional print media

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L Adimoolam, the publisher of Dinamalar. Photo: The Hindu
L Adimoolam, the publisher of Dinamalar. Photo: The Hindu

L Adimoolam, the publisher of Dinamalar, writes on the Audit Bureau of Circulation resuming its audit and the power of regional print media.  

Yes, it is a sunrise, I am very positive about this. About two-and-a-half decades ago, the buzz that lingered in my ears was that “It is sunset for the Print Medium.” This was repeated again and again very often by media stalwarts. But as the owner and publisher of a language daily, I see it far from over. 

Now ABC has come out after a hiatus of two years. Many of the so-called leading English dailies are not being reflected. Many leading agencies are wondering about the unfair rates that they have paid to English dailies. Now with no ABC or badly reduced figures, will they be able to buy them at a proportionate rate? It is also unfortunate that the curtains are falling hard on them because of the hype that they promoted over the years that was illogically supported by the big-wigs of a few advertising agencies.

Over the last few decades, it appears to me that clients’ interests were truly not on top of the agency’s agenda. It was more seen as earning potential, and for this, they used the highly-priced English dailies to help them – and to make money as well because of the exorbitant rates that they charged.  The industry is suffering because of the over-hyped rate charges by a handful of publications, especially those of a few English publications.

On the other hand, language dailies – though to a great extent ignored or exploited – were always conservative. It was like this if you spoke well in the English language, you were high and mighty, and if you weren’t fluent, you were low and a discard. 

Another reason for this is that many leading agencies were parking more than 20% of the print spends of clients with one or two publications in the English space, and language dailies were given crumbs from the spending that remained. This was also the reason for language dailies to be exploited and degraded. Do you remember that great brands that took off in India with a high magnitude of spending with English dailies are not now in India – for instance, Ford, Chevrolet, and many more? With agencies promoting national reach and coverage and thereby supporting English dailies, language dailies have proved their worth and grown with strong local retail advertising. The language dailies were able to sustain even during the tough times by publishing more pages – with a minimal reduction of pages as we needed to provide local content since the reader pays a higher cover price too.    

Now, why do I say all this?  Let us divide this era. Post- and Pre-Covid. Many dailies stand totally exposed (more so the English dailies). Many English newspapers never had the ethics to abide by the industry norm. I am referring to the Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC). This is the true certified number of copies that a newspaper sells in the marketplace. It should be sunset for the English dailies sooner than expected. It all started with some newspapers pushing copies in the disguise of invitation pricing and pricing an intellectual product as low as Rs 1 and unimaginably increasing the advertising tariff and making many medium and small advertisers move to digital media. Many leaders in some markets and challengers were killed by this unfair tactic. 

Unfortunately, English dailies in Tamil Nadu have not gone in for this audit. Only two leading language dailies in Tamil Nadu have been certified with circulation figures for the period Jan-Jun 2022, proudly including Daily Thanthi and Dinamalar. However, many stand-alone language dailies have gone in for certification, and many, and mostly the so-called leading English dailies, have not been certified, and those that were certified have shown a very huge drop in circulation as well. The English dailies are not certified as they are afraid that the low numbers will shatter the perception of their audience delivery. On the other hand, the language newspaper circulation drop has not been that steep. 

Even with some English dailies not being in the ABC audit, agencies have preferred to pay very high values or rates to some publications. If it is Rs 2 crore for a jacket for a daily with a 3 million circulation, a language publication with 1.8 million copies is not paid even Rs 50 lakh. 

A positive point for language dailies is that the recovery from the drop in circulation has also been good. Please note that the language dailies do have a higher cover price too.

Here are a few of my closing requests and suggestions –

The leading advertising agencies should also understand the power of the language press and their local market strengths besides some statistical figures they have. I hope at least in this post-Covid era, established advertising agencies who help brands grow will also look at including a larger share of advertising.

Claimed circulation figures by English dailies and high rates/prices paid, followed by their sudden downfall and many English dailies going out of ABC to hide the real figures, clearly bring out that the curtains are falling hard on the English press. Will the clients/agencies see this? Will they appreciate the boldness of many language dailies? Will the rate corrections happen in the English news media? Will this money be ploughed into the language space, or will it go to other media? I am sure all will realize that print media has some uniqueness that cannot be replaced. 

I also appeal to my comrades – we are considered as the fourth estate of our country. Print is known for its credibility, and this drives our business. Let us as an industry follow ethical practices and not break them to make moolah the wrong way. 

I am sure that if we do course correction now, our industry, as a whole, will grow and add greater value to both the reader and the advertiser.                                                                                                                                                                L Adimoolam 

First published as a Guest Column on 26 September 2022 by exchange4media.com. This lightly edited version is reprinted with the permission of the author.

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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