In terms of print evaluation, our industry has received a breather with the release of IRS (Indian Readership Survey) 2017. Hopefully, we can go back to 'normal' now. Planners, buyers and media reps have a new conversation point before eventually figuring out 'What's in it for me?'
The discussion, so far, is still about how much more or how much less the readership is. As an industry we should be able to value the media vehicle for its strength - for what it gives in absolute terms rather than in relative terms; never mind the growth or de-growth. After all, we are talking about substantial numbers in Rs 40.7 crore reaching 39.4 per cent of the adult population in India and we have yet to hit the saturation point by half, given the opportunity our growing literacy rate provides.
The ABC (Audit Bureau of Circulation) certified circulation trends are in sync with those the IRS suggests in terms of market share, except that English language, in circulation terms, has a larger share when compared to readership and vice-versa for Hindi language papers.
The definition of total readership, hence, needs to be looked at in the light of the language of the newspaper vis-à-vis the literacy level of the state and the overall potential to reach out to a more informed consumer on neutral grounds, hence, building on the stature of credibility which was always the strength of the printed word.
Total readership is likely to be higher in regional language newspapers except for states where the education level is high. For example, Malayalam language, like English, has a larger share of the circulation numbers. This throws a bit of a tussle on what definition to choose. If you take English language newspapers and/or business publications, it is always good to compare AIR (Average Issue Readership) which I believe should always be the trading currency. Just like there is a lot of debate on the viewability of an ad and the ad avoidance factor on digital media, print media can play the sheet-anchor role for more than one reason.
I think publishers need to see the print medium in a multi-dimensional manner - in terms of the social media-savvy ones, the neo-literates - who also form a large part of the youth - and readers, who are newspaper-habitual and heavy TV viewers.
Given that news reporting, in the traditional sense, has becoming more and more redundant, isn't it time to write new norms? Editorial, as a possible harbinger of change, can create a catalytic effect if you dare to do so. For example, the editorial format can be divided into three distinct leads other than micro-local news emphasis - the 'fake news unveiled', the 'main story behind the headlines last night' and the 'investigative sequel' story.
Unlike earlier, when magazines had to follow the newspapers' lead and expand on it, today, print newspapers have to do the same on the heels of social media. This is not a prescription to publishers because they know what is best, better than anybody else, but the call is for them to re-invent themselves.
There is much to learn from our counterparts in other markets, but India is unique and needs its own formulae of evolution.
The neo-literates are drawing the new norms, so newspapers will do well to throw away their old principles and embrace new definitions of engagement.
(The author is founder-director of Rubixkube Communications, an advertising and media consultancy company)