afaqs!

The TOIs' journey down South

By Sumantha Rathore , afaqs!, Jaipur | In Media Publishing | April 18, 2011
Franklyn James, VP, RMD, The Times of India, presented the English daily's achievements and lessons learnt in Chennai and Coimbatore.

The case study presented by Franklyn James, vice-president, results and market development, The Times of India (TOI) at INMA's seminar, titled Circulation 3Gs: Growth, Growth and Growth, talked about the daily's moments of triumphs and challenges in the Tamil Nadu market. The seminar was held on April 15, at Hotel Clarks Amer, Jaipur.

James said that when the TOI decided to launch in Chennai, the city belonged to The Hindu, where the latter had a rock solid presence. Drawing a parallel between what was already present in the market for 100 years (The Hindu) with a new entrant (TOI), he said that while the former was considered credible, conservative and had no competition, the TOI was considered a versatile, young and vibrant daily.

In 2008, when the TOI was being launched, the group decided to play on factors which were missing or were almost negligible, said James. The group decided to launch an all-colour daily at an affordable price, and make an entry through pre-paid subscription, a first ever attempt by any daily in the city. "It was a big risk we took," said James.

He said that prior to the TOI's entry in the city, Chennai was a stagnant market where the competition was well-entrenched. "Though The Hindu was an established player, Deccan Chronicle was a market spoiler as it distributed free copies in the market, which in turn, created the 'raddi' problem, said James. Deccan Chronicle entered Chennai in 2006.

He added that it was a controversial scenario when the TOI entered the market. A little before that, The Hindu had taken Deccan Chronicle to court for fudging in the ABC numbers. The Hindu went on to lose the case. So, the TOI had to be careful in its approach. For the TOI, implementation of pre-paid subscription had to be effective for it to gain a foothold in the city.

For this, the group adopted a strategy of giving yearly subscriptions at Rs 299 and half-yearly subscriptions at Rs 170.

Also, the commission given to the trade was only 45 paise, which, post the TOI's entry, was increased to 75 paise. The TOI's gameplan included setting up two offices for vendor booking, instead of one.

BCCL had to face challenges from the competition as disinformation was given to vendors by the market leader (The Hindu) and it also had to tackle vendor resistance against pre-paid booking, said James. The resistance reached its peak when all three trade unions of Chennai opposed the TOI's pre-paid scheme, and vendors demanded a commission of Re 1 on every copy.

James said that the group overcame this hurdle by indulging in continuous talks with the vendors, which slowly moulded their decision and strengthened the channel network. "You can't be a winner unless you are able to win the trade," said James. He said that the vendor earning in the city increased by 144 per cent.

The group took a huge risk by announcing the cover price of the Chennai edition two days prior to its launch. "Our competition could have changed the cover price overnight, but nevertheless, we took the risk," he added. The TOI's Chennai edition was launched with a cover price of Rs 2. The Hindu, which was selling at more than Rs 3, had to reduce its cover price, as well.

On the day of its launch in Chennai (April 14, 2008), the daily had a pre-paid subscription base of 1.27 lakh.

The Coimbatore launch, which took place three years after the launch of the Chennai edition, followed a similar strategy and was launched with a pre-paid subscription of 40,000 copies. The group focussed on creating and widening its dealer network. The market leader, The Hindu, however, did not change either its cover price or its trade commission.

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