Five-year financial results of a dozen Indian newspaper groups

IppStar survey shows print news media far from full recovery

The financial results of a select group of 12 Indian newspaper groups over the past 5 years are examined by IppStar
The financial results of a select group of 12 Indian newspaper groups over the past 5 years are examined by IppStar

For the purpose of evaluating the recovery path of the Indian newspaper industry, Ipp Services, Training and Research ( has taken a look at the reported standalone financial results of a dozen publishers over the past five years from 1 April 2017 to 31 March 2022. The Covid-19 pandemic has been disruptive but the numbers show that the industry was plateauing even in FY 2017-18 and FY 2018-19 – years with seven bad quarters of GDP growth, as we entered the pandemic year and the full lockdown of FY 2020-21.

Nevertheless, on the basis of the subsequent hard financial results, one has to accept the view of Mathrubhumi publisher Shreyams Kumar that the news media has not yet recovered to its FY 2017-18 and FY 2018-19 levels. The decline shown by the sample of 12 publishers studied by IppStar (, began even before the pandemic, with their collective profits of over Rs 2,000 crore on a turnover of almost Rs. 18,300 crore in FY 2017-18, sinking by more than 61% in the FY 2018-19 year – a decline of over Rs. 1200 crore to less than Rs 800 crore.

While all the newspaper publishers in our sample were profitable in FY 2017-18, in the following 2018-19 financial year, two of them showed losses of more than Rs 100 crore. This predated the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic by 11 months and the 23 March 2020 lockdown by almost a full year. 

In the following years, the number of loss-making news publishers in our sample increased to three and then four. In the most recent year for which we have data, FY 2021-22, only one company was still showing a loss, and that too of only Rs 20 crore. However, the combined profit of these companies in FY 21-22 has only reached 75% of that achieved four years ago, although it reflects a four-fold improvement over the previous year. 

Profitability eroded by flat print ad spend & higher newsprint cost

The collective profit of these dozen publishers has increased from Rs. 346 crore to Rs. 1,510 crore or well over four times, in the FY 2021-22 that ended on 31 March 2022. Their collective total revenues have risen from Rs. 10, 934 crore to Rs. 13,544 crore in the same year, an increase of 23.9%. 

In the same period, the cost of their material consumption which we can safely presume includes newsprint has increased by 41.7%, while their employee benefits and expenses have increased by only 3%. However, the monetary value of material consumption, including newsprint, is still almost 44% below FY 18-19, which given the much higher price of newsprint, indicates that the recovery in pagination and circulation is still far away.

The minimal increase in employee expenses in the latest full year for which we have data could be explained by the restoration of the 17.5% redundancies and wage cuts of journalists and other resources during FY 19-20 and FY 20-21. Although the employee and benefits expenses of publishers rose again in 21-22 by 3.1%, the data indicates that these expenses are still 15% below what they were four years ago. In the highly inflationary current situation, an implication may be that most of the editorial and operational redundancies have not been restored.

In the case of two publishers, the profits have actually fallen in their results in the most recent year we have accessed, over the previous year. And in the case of two other companies, although there is a slight increase in profit, the numbers are practically identical for the two years. This is largely explained by the over 40% increase in the cost of materials consumed by our sample, and the 3% increase in employee benefits – while circulation revenue increased by 11%, and ad revenues by 30%. In spite of ostensibly printing more copies and adding pagination compared to the previous year, the implication is that the landscape and scope of increasing advertising rates remain extremely competitive. 

Tough years ahead, especially for smaller publishers

On the basis of published industry forecasts, one can expect an increase in print ad spending by 7.4% in FY 2022-23, and while circulation revenue may rise this is far from certain. One can anticipate and surmise that if the recovery continues and the combined advertising revenues of our sample increase by even 9%, (assuming that these publishers continue to cannibalize the market share of other print news publishers), these will still be 30% below their combined ad revenues in the 2017-18 and 2018-19 years. (In both these years, the ad revenues were flat, and almost identically, in the Rs. 12,700 to Rs 12,800 crore range.)

As to the profitability of our sample print news publishers, it may remain a challenge to achieve the combined Rs 2,000 crore profit of FY 2017-18 – an increase of 25% seems unlikely. For the rest of the industry, with notable exceptions, the profitability of the previous golden years is likely to be even further away since our sample seems to be increasing its share of the market and is representative enough to indicate that a larger sample will likely reinforce these findings.

A note on our sample

The newspaper and magazine publishers examined in the survey by IppStar include Amar Ujala in Hindi; Bartaman in Bengali and Hindi; Bennett & Coleman in English, Hindi, Bengali, Marathi, and Kannada; DB Corp in Hindi, Gujarati, and Marathi; HT Media in English; Hindustan Media Ventures in Hindi; Jagran Prakashan in Hindi and Urdu; Lokmat in Marathi; Mathrubhumi in Malayalam; Rajasthan Patrika in English and Hindi; Sandesh in Gujarati; and THG Publishing in English. Bartaman has only recently started its Hindi edition and the reported financial figures are likely to exclude its contribution. Similarly, the THG Publishing figures exclude the group’s associate entity which publishes its Tamil daily.

The print ad revenues of the dozen news organizations in our sample represented approximately 52% of the print advertising spend in India in FY 2020-21, and approximately 60% of the print ad spend in the country in FY 2021-22. Please note that in all cases we have taken the standalone financial results of these companies in an attempt to distinguish and filter these as best we can, from the distinct digital, outdoor signage, radio, television, and other business interests that many of them have.

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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