ABC versus RNI – the newspaper story

L Adimoolam of Dinamalar writes how publications can choose the credibility yardstick

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ABC
L Adimoolam, Publisher, Dinamalar

The latest ABC for the year 2023 is out. After this audit, which was taken as a whole year, it will be again a bi-annual audit as per ABC.

Dinamalar, for five decades, has submitted itself for ABC audit for all its 10 editions, which helps us showcase our true strength in the market with real numbers. We also presume that it is only ethical to have it audited by an external body as this will help in the growth of the Print industry. 

Many leading publications, having dropped huge circulation copies post Covid, have preferred to stay out of ABC as a strategic move. They influence the agency and clients based on perception, not on real numbers. In editions where they are truly strong with numbers they go for ABC audit, or they submit themselves to RNI for certification. Many of the leading publications both in the English and in the language space have moved to the RNI as it effortlessly gets them to show higher numbers.

If clients and agencies are aware of how RNI and ABC figures are compiled, then one will come to know how far the RNI figures deviate from reality, casting a cloud of doubt. One should also question publications as to why some of their editions choose to be in ABC and some in RNI.

Let me explain in short and I hope those who read this are benefitted.

Before ABC issues a certificate, a team from an empanelled audit firm appointed by ABC (audit firms get rotated) visits a publication for a minimum 30 days to verify every ledger, receipts, bills, invoice, and vouchers put up for expense or receipt in a newspaper office, whether it comes from advertisement, circulation or from scrap sales, to ensure that money that comes in or goes out is genuinely accounted.

This is done for all their editions. Every credit note of any department is verified and audited. This process is followed without any exemption strictly by the audit teams; India’s top 25 audit firms are empanelled with ABC. 

The audit team makes a surprise visit to the printing center at midnight, visits distribution points and physically opens the packed paper bundles before it is taken by the agents. There is no forewarning to the publication staff. 

In the case of RNI certification, only 13 documents are submitted to the office by the publications and a certificate is issued based on this submission. In our country, where fake stamp papers, fake arrest warrants and even fake US dollars are printed, a few publications can surely fake a few documents to show an increased number of copies.

Publications that want to fake circulation numbers can raise a bill for sold copies and issue a credit note to those agents in its advertisement accounts which RNI will not come to know as they do not audit the advertisement books.

Moreover for RNI a mere purchase of a newsprint invoice is enough. They do not verify the genuineness of that invoice or counter verify the GST paid from the GST department, or check the electricity bills of the printing center to measure the print run or check the vouchers paid for the transportation of newsprint, to ensure the volume of newsprint consumed. ABC follows these meticulously, checks all the contra accounts in different books of the publication.

Why opt for RNI?

This is to show increased circulation numbers so that they get a higher rate from CBC. (DAVP) as RNI accepts both ABC and RNI certification figures for rate calculation purposes. This gives an impression in the market that RNI figures are recognized by the government of India as it is displayed in the RNI website, which is not true. CBC is well aware of this: RNI does not have sufficient audit staff and with this minimal strength will not be able to audit and certify and hence ask for submission of needed documents and on verification just certifies. (Of course as per policy RNI claims, they send an audit team from Delhi)

There is one instance in Tamil Nadu in the year 2022, wherein one multi-edition publication filed circulation numbers to RNI for the Newsprint consumed showing a certain number and in 6 months applied again to RNI for circulation certification and got a circulation increase of nearly 100%. Both the figures are displayed on the RNI website which is astonishing. Is this possible at all?

In contrast, ABC norms are more stringent and it is needed to maintain credibility. For instance, it allows a trade discount cap of 45%, which encompasses all expenses. Although RNI has a similar trade commission cap, it is possible for publications to account expenses under different heads and discounts passed to distribution agents to the extent of 80%-90% for market domination and to kill competition. 

It is unfortunate that clients and agencies are unaware of this and do not question publications on why they opted for RNI certification, or why they moved out of ABC. Or why certain editions alone are in ABC and some are not. In fact, it should be easier to question why certain editions alone are in ABC and some are not.

This only proves that they are not interested in the clients’ success. Some publications and agencies need to make their profits. 

It’s the prerogative of any publication to choose which certification they need, and no one has the right to comment on this, but these questions are raised for publications who are using the government facility. They spoil the industry’s credibility by faking the numbers and increase the advertisement rates, which makes people feel Print media is expensive and makes clients move away from the print business. 

It is time all publications came out clean on this count and prove that it is just not news that is carried is reliable but that the entire business of the Print industry is based on integrity.

(First published on Exchange4media. The author is the Publisher, Dinamalar. Republished with permission from L Adimoolam)

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.

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