Anirban Roy Choudhury
Interviews

"Mid-Day's readership is around 14 lakh but at one point we were sending 10 crore PDFs": Apurva Purohit

Here’s an exclusive interaction with the president of Jagran Group who talks about the group’s new interactive digital tabloid, the research that went behind launching it, and much more.

Mid-Day Infomedia Limited, a subsidiary of Jagran Prakashan which reported Rs 1,772 crore turnover and a profit of Rs 262 crore in FY19-20, has launched an interactive digital tabloid for its marquee English publication Mid-Day.

The digital-tabloid will mirror the newspaper and charge a subscription fee from consumers. It will have some additional interactive features that Apurva Purohit, president, Jagran Group, feels will appeal to the traditional newspaper readers who can’t access a physical copy due to various reasons.

A media and entertainment industry veteran, Purohit, who has also worked in television in the past, is a firm believer that people need to pay for content. In the middle of a pandemic, when businesses are strategising to ensure survival, she says, it’s time to pivot.

Here’s an exclusive interaction with Purohit who, apart from being an executive, has also authored two books. She talks about the new offering, the research that went behind launching it, and much more.

You positioned it as an interactive digital tabloid. Could you explain the interactivity part?

Animation is the feature we have unveiled so far. Going forward, we will introduce gamification in it where there will be Sudoku, Crossword, etc.

What went on behind the scenes? Can you share with us some of the research that was done before launching the digital tabloid?

Mid-Day has been a Mumbai newspaper, and people have appreciated it for more than 40 years now as it provides city-based (local) news. Mumbaikars have a lot of regards and respect for the paper.

In the process of launching the digital tabloid, we worked with Ormax Media to figure out Mid-Day’s strength. What emerged was that it’s a Mumbai brand that is rooted in the city’s spirit at a ground level. Then came the lockdown.

“We chose to do something which legacy publications didn’t”
Apurva Purohit

What changed during lockdown?

Because newspaper circulations dropped to zero, we kept getting calls, and that is when we decided that we will provide PDF versions to our readers for free. Yes, there was a lot of information available via radio, TV and digital, but people in the Mid-Day community were missing the connection.

For the last three months, we have been distributing the PDF for free. Other newspapers started sending PDFs, but they eventually stopped and few went behind a paywall. Whatever available was pirated versions.

We were clear that these three months aren’t the time to make any money, but stay connected with our community. What we were pleasantly surprised with is that the people from outside Mumbai started asking for PDFs. All of a sudden, Mid-Day became a national paper.

Why do you think people from outside Mumbai started requesting for PDFs?

We will have to take into account the migration that took place even among the SEC classification. There are many who work here, but went back to their home during lockdown. The students who were studying in Mumbai, but have now migrated back...

We started getting feedback that people like this connection with Mumbai through Mid-Day, and they’re enjoying the PDF format as it is very easy to read. The readership of Mid-Day is around 14 lakh, but we discovered that, at one point, we were sending 10 crore PDFs either directly, or through our alliances. That is when we decided to launch the digital tabloid.

You decided to launch the tabloid at a price of Re 1 per day. Tell us about the pricing.

We just discovered that we have a larger community, which goes beyond Mumbai. We were clear that the content we’re offering needs to be paid for, and at the same time, wanted to price it at a range which everybody can afford.

Tell us more about the target audience of this paid digital-tabloid version of Mid-Day.

First, the pricing of Re 1 a day will certainly not be the reason for anyone to not subscribe to it. It is definitely not an entry barrier for anybody. The target group, simply put, is anybody who is a Mumbaikar at heart. Not only the people living in Mumbai, but also those in other cities who want to shift to Mumbai either for work or studies...

"Mid-Day's readership is around 14 lakh but at one point we were sending 10 crore PDFs": Apurva Purohit

Given the base you are talking about, do you think Re 1 a day would make it a profitable proposition?

MIL has three strong brands in it. One is Mid-Day, then we have Gujarati Mid-Day and The Inquilab. Now, priced at Rs 7 and Rs 8 respectively, Gujarati Mid-Day and The Inquilab are probably the only newspapers in India that are making money on subscription, and advertising is just add-on.

Mid-Day, on the other hand, relies on advertising and is making money. So, we didn’t think if Re 1 a day is a profitable proposition, or not. Our understanding is that it has the potential to reach out to a very large volume of readers.

“Elephants can’t dance, but agile organisations can, and that’s what we’ve done”
Apurva Purohit

What happens to the existing Mid-Day website that drives SEO traffic and advertising money?

That proposition remains the way it is, and will continue to be free. The digital tabloid is basically a new proposition that is being launched which is an interactive e-paper. We are starting this from zero.

There is this perception that people only pay for utilities like Bloomberg or Moneycontrol. Why would people pay for the tabloid when the news is available for free?

First, people, who aren’t in Mumbai, will pay for it because they don't have access to the print version. Then people will pay for it because it is not a boring e-paper. Instead, we have invested in UI/UX to make it fun. I have only seen the animation that we have introduced in the e-paper in Harry Potter. So, they will pay for the experience and content.

What will be your challenges, going forward, especially when there are so many publications offering similar content?

There are two types of content consumers. One who searches for content, finds it and consumes it. So, they’d go to Google and search to know what is happening in Kareena Kapoor Khan's life and what is happening around COVID.

There is another set of consumers who want content to be offered in a curated format. So, they like Mumbai and you curate everything about city and produce it for them. That segment has traditionally been the print reader, and we’re trying to get them to subscribe to the digital tabloid.

Website readers aren’t the ones we’re after. This is an offering for the print readers in a digital form. It mirrors a newspaper, and not any website.

“I’ve been a strong advocate of paying for content”:
Apurva Purohit

We are in the middle of a tough time and you are launching a product. What does it mean from the group's point of view?

For everyone, the challenge today is the impact of COVID, and we will see many business models being changed. Only those businesses that are very prudent on cost and focused on the bottom-line, will survive. We have always been bottom-line driven and liquidity focused, and so, in none of our businesses have we asked people to go as many media organisations have done.

Another point I would like to make is that as many people are scrambling to survive, Mid-Day chose to innovate and pivot. Elephants can’t dance, but agile organisations can, and that’s what we’ve done. We chose to do something which legacy publications didn’t. If we succeed in this project, I am sure many in the industry will follow.

What will success be (like) for you when we talk about digital tabloid?

I’m not choosing to define success numerically at this stage... If it reaches out to a wide audience, who see merit in the format, and we’re able to deliver it consistently - I will be satisfied with that.

Last, we talked about the situation that print media is in, and you said that people need to pay for the content that you offer. Do you feel newspapers have subsidised news for too long?

I’ve been in the media industry for the last 31 years, from the Doordarshan days till now. I feel print has unnecessarily subsidised the content for its consumer. I’ve been a strong advocate of paying for content.

When I was with Zee TV and we used to do our investor calls, Subhash Chandra Goenka (Zee TV’s founder) and I used to tell everybody that one day, 50 per cent of our revenue will come from subscription, and people used to laugh at us. TV did move the needle on subscription and they rake in a significant percentage of their revenue, print never did that. I believe this pandemic is a lesson, but print, as an industry, should have asked people to pay a long time ago.