The Indian newspaper industry’s gradual recovery

Real numbers generally contradict wishful thinking and hallucinations

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Indian
Several industry commentators have reflected on the latest reports and the purported good news of the newspaper industry’s recovery. Photo Kuntal Saha

In February and March 2024, there have been several reports by global organizations on the Indian media and entertainment industry. While these try and analyze the recovery or growth and structural changes in the industry, their data does not seem reliable or validated to any great degree. They rely on the calendar year while the Indian industry uses an April-to-March financial year for reporting and taxation. In addition, barring the few newspapers that are listed on the stock exchange, the financial data of many news media publishers are filed late and the official government data made public is out of date.

Nevertheless, several industry commentators have reflected on the latest reports and the purported good news of the newspaper industry’s recovery. These exaggerations sometimes even say that circulations have recovered (in a roundabout way) to pre-Covid levels when that is not the case. Asked to explain the high recovery in profits in some cases – news publishers attribute these to the much lower price of newsprint, which is also not likely, although newsprint prices in the first three quarters of the 2023-24 financial year were 20% lower than the previous year and are likely to rise in the last quarter because of higher logistics costs.

Government data shows that the import of newsprint, which directly correlates with the overall consumption by the industry (with a slight bias to the larger publishers), has only gone up by 15% over the previous year. This would imply a recovery in pagination and circulation to approximately 60 to 70% of the pre-pandemic years.

Thus while many of the larger national dailies are showing good recovery in pagination and to some extent in their circulation, the overall recovery of the Indian newspaper industry is flat. The consumption economy is fairly healthy and the larger dailies can garner retail advertising at earlier rates despite their circulations being much lower currently.

The global reports indicate that while advertising is rising overall and slightly in print – print’s share of the overall pie is falling although not as much as in television news. Apart from changing habits and formats, a credibility crisis is eroding television news viewership. However, this audience has not migrated to printed news media or its websites. It has shown a preference for alternative news media organizations and individuals on the web, supported by likes, subscriptions, and donations.

For the more prominent news dailies in most markets, and with elections approaching, a substantial amount of central and state government advertising is given at earlier rates that have not been revised, pending new ABC data. Government agencies and large public sector companies continue to use outdated data for their ad spending when the actual circulations have halved. Using alternative metrics and information, advertisers are befuddled at best and, at worst, cheated. Approximately 20 of the major dailies are selectively withdrawing editions from the latest ABC compilation to be released in the coming months as its circulation data is being bypassed and devalued.

A core issue for the mainstream news media is the steep fall in circulation and the inability to monetize their websites. Reasons cited for the slow recovery include the migration to digital and social media, dominated by cell phone videos. Industry experts also speak about the breakdown in the distribution system where resources who went back to their villages and towns during the lockdowns are reluctant to resume their early morning vocation in the cities. With rising opportunities nearer home, even the gig economy in the cities offers more interesting opportunities. While the potential income is reduced by the reduction in newspaper consumption, the infrastructure development in many cities presents an additional albeit temporary hindrance to the home delivery supply chain.

In conclusion, one must be modest in projecting the Indian newspaper and media industry’s recovery and transformation. Some experts indicate that a real recovery (or possibly restructuring and consolidation) is about two or three years away. Meanwhile, there is no need to create hallucinations by mixing up unvalidated numbers and wishful projections merely to fool advertisers. The core issues of evidence-based, reliable content and perspectives – and reader interest, impact, and behavior remain, with little evidence to indicate that the Indian population has lost its interest in real news.

In 2024, we are looking at full recovery and growth-led investment in Indian printing

Indian Printer and Publisher founded in 1979 is the oldest B2B trade publication in the multi-platform and multi-channel IPPGroup. It created the category of privately owned B2B print magazines in the country. And by its diversification in packaging, (Packaging South Asia), food processing and packaging (IndiFoodBev) and health and medical supply chain and packaging (HealthTekPak), and its community activities in training, research, and conferences (Ipp Services, Training and Research) the organization continues to create platforms that demonstrate the need for quality information, data, technology insights and events.

India is a large and tough terrain and while its book publishing and commercial printing industry have recovered and are increasingly embracing digital print, the Indian newspaper industry continues to recover its credibility and circulation. The signage industry is also recovering and new technologies and audiences such as digital 3D additive printing, digital textiles, and industrial printing are coming onto our pages. Diversification is a fact of life for our readers and like them, we will also have to adapt with agility to keep up with their business and technical information needs.

India is one of the fastest growing economies in nominal and real terms – in a region poised for the highest change in year to year expenditure in printing equipment and consumables. Our 2024 media kit is ready, and it is the right time to take stock – to emphasize your visibility and relevance to your customers and turn potential markets into conversations.

– Naresh Khanna

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