Malayala Manorama’s revenues back to pre-pandemic levels: Varghese Chandy

Varghese Chandy on Malayala Manorama’s new design, print media’s future and the rise of digital

Malayala Manorama
Malayala Manorama unveiled its new look with vibrant colors, big photos and better navigation.

It has been a double treat for Kerala’s media powerhouse Malayala Manorama. The Kottayam-headquartered Malayalam daily is celebrating its 136th anniversary with a new look and feel. The newspaper has also won accolades at the 6th International Newspaper Design Competition awards announced recently, receiving recognition in the Best of Double Spread category. One design from Malayala Manorama narrated the journey of Abhilash Tomy, who circumnavigated the earth, and other travelers. The second one titled ‘Dance Moves’ was about the Naatu Naatu song from the film RRR and other Oscar nominations from India.

Indian Printer and Publisher interacted with Varghese Chandy, vice-president of marketing, advertising, and sales, Malayala Manorama, who spoke on the changing face of the newspaper, the need for a redesign, challenges before the print media amid the rise of digital and AI in media.

Malayala Manorama
Varghese Chandy, vice-president of marketing, advertising, and sales, Malayala Manorama

Talking about the newspaper’s journey, Chandy said the road wasn’t always smooth for Malayala Manorama, which was founded in 1888 by Kandathil Varghese Mappilai, a journalist, translator, and publisher. “Kandathil Varghese Mappilai embarked on a remarkable journey. He founded India’s first joint stock publishing company, paving the way for a powerful voice for the people.”

Chandy said the journey was full of ups and downs as the newspaper championed civil rights and responsible governance, which sometimes caused friction with the authorities. This event led to the closure of the newspaper for nine years – between 1938 and 1947 – and the imprisonment of its then-editor.

Despite these challenges, we persevered. Upon reopening in 1947 after India got freedom, we were the fifth-largest newspaper in Kerala. Today, we stand tall as Kerala’s largest circulated newspaper, India’s No:1 language newspaper, and the third largest overall in the nation.”

New sleek look

On the occasion of the daily’s 136th anniversary last month, Malayala Manorama unveiled its new look with vibrant colors, big photos and better navigation. The newspaper has been redesigned by Lucie Lacava, an Italian-Canadian design consultant. Before this, the newspaper had gone for redesigns in 2004 and 2012 by Mario Garcia and Javier Errea.

Malayala Manorama
Malayala Manorama unveiled its new look with vibrant colors, big photos and better navigation

Explaining the need for a redesign, Chandy said that just like any brand, newspapers need to evolve to stay relevant to their audience. “Throughout our 136-year journey, we have embraced this philosophy, undergoing multiple redesigns to reflect the changing tastes of our readers.”

The main objective of the new design was to ensure order and discipline in the news layout. A ‘focus’ was created for each page and good pictures were given importance. The emphasis, Chandy explained, is on making each news story stand out and grab attention. “A layout makes the news stand out quickly. Readers will not waste time searching for news.” Indexes and balcony pointers have been created on the front page to make navigating inside pages easier.

According to Chandy, it is more convenient for readers if news of the same nature stays together as it allows more stories to be included. Furthermore, different types of pages have been assigned specific colors, which will help readers identify those pages and get to them quickly.

Coming to the typeface, Chandy said Manorama’s special fonts, which are popular with the readers, have been made attractive without changing them. The large black headlines will quickly draw attention to the news, he said, adding the black color will make the accompanying pictures more vivid. “When the headlines are kept black, the newspaper becomes more colorful. Different pages have been separated by different colors. More color screens will brighten the pages. This will help readers to read the black letters quickly. Black is the most credible color.”

Special attention has been paid to photographs as great pictures make for a new viewing experience. Good pictures are not only visually appealing but a gateway to the finer details of the news, he said.

Malayala Manorama has launched a campaign to highlight the special features of the new design. The newspaper has done cross-promotions with Manorama Online and its official social media platforms to draw additional readers to the important news. For example, a user can read related news in Manorama Online by scanning a QR code. quoted Lucie Lacava as saying in an interview, “We made navigation easier, established a strong hierarchy, added more color, created a better environment to display visuals, especially photojournalism, introduced briefs packages, subdivided the grid for added flexibility when designing pages.”

Pandemic and recovery

Print media took a major hit during the Covid pandemic, with circulation reaching near zero levels and revenue plunging to abysmal depths. The story was, however, different for Kerala, where the print media managed to stay afloat, about which Indian Printer and Publisher has already reported.

According to Chandy, the circulation of Malayala Manorama was the least affected during the pandemic. Kerala overall reported a circulation drop of only 10%. “People realized that fake news was being spread through social media and so they depended on newspapers for facts and figures,” he said. The Kerala government supported the media houses, allowing newspapers to be distributed even in micro containment zones during the Covid pandemic.

I am happy to place on record that our advertising revenues have also reached the pre-pandemic levels,” Chandy announced, adding newspapers will continue to be a mass media that is relevant to both readers and advertisers. “As far as Kerala is concerned, it is a print-savvy state and newspapers will continue to be the primary source of information.”

Asked if there are any refresh plans for the newspaper in terms of content, keeping in mind the young readers, who prefer short, snappy news, he said revamping of content is a continuous process. Malayala Manorama, he says, does a lot of research on reader preferences and adapts the content accordingly. “Our latest redesign is a testimony to attracting young readers. We are currently available in 11 out of 14 districts and our penetration in Kerala is the highest compared to any other state.”

Challenges from digital and paywall

The rise of digital media is a matter of concern for print media as content consumption is moving online, especially for the younger generation. Legacy print media houses have taken up the challenge by revamping and enhancing their online presence. Media observers point to a hybrid existence of print and digital.

Chandy says Kerala’s strong newspaper tradition hasn’t been diminished by the rise of digital media. Trust in print remains high as online information can sometimes lack credibility, he says, referring to the flip side of digital – fake news and disinformation.

We understand this, and that’s why we have a significant online presence that complements the experience for our readers. It is wrong to say that digital is a threat to print as both complement each other. Newspapers give comprehensive, detailed and analytical news. There will be important news stories. There will be some news interesting for every segment. At the same time, if you want to search for a particular news or go in-depth, online can help. In fact, there is a big shift of consuming entertainment content to digital, which will only increase.”

Many legacy brands are going behind a paywall to monetize digital. However, convincing readers to pay for news online is a challenge. Chandy says India is a free market and it is a tough job to charge for content. But that is the future. If readers get premium content or something interesting that is not available anywhere else, they will pay. “We just started restricting our premium content for paid subscribers only and the response is positive.”

The advent of AI

Malayala Manorama
The winning designs from Malayala Manorama in the Best of Double Spread category at the 6th International Newspaper Design Competition awards. The one on the left was about the Naatu Naatu song from the film RRR and other Oscar nominations from India. The one on the right narrated the journey of Abhilash Tomy, who circumnavigated the earth, and other travelers.

Artificial intelligence is the big buzzword these days with many media houses in the West using it to enhance content and some others to optimize operations.

Chandy says the usage of AI for improving the quality of content is definitely encouraging. Giving an example, he said it can help in summaries and reports. “There is a huge scope for storytelling based on data. It can help unearth hidden trends. AI can also help in fact-checking.”

As long as it doesn’t lead to blatant plagiarism, AI, he said, should be used to help in crafting content. Malayala Manorama uses AI for translation purposes. “But technology always helps you to improvise your job and cannot be a replacement for you. At the end of the day, you have to fine-tune the translation and choose what is relevant for you,” he concluded.

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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