Subhas Warrier
Guest Article

Subhas Warrier on the changing face of print media

The author uses the recent revamp of The Hindu as an example to make his point.

In the 1980s I had the good fortune of launching a global campaign in the newspapers... well, partially global, covering Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Subhas Warrier on the changing face of print media
I used to receive the newspaper copies (the full issue) as vouchers. My client wanted the full issue of the newspapers as 'proof of ad'. European newspapers such as FT London (broadsheet), Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung or FAZ (broadsheet) and Le Figaro (Berliner) all weighed about five kgs each and were about 80+ pages long.

Our ads were placed earlier in the issue since position negotiations were the same then and I believe it is the same even today. It is a fight till we drop dead on a somewhat unlucky day! Even today, these newspapers print the same number of pages.

When The Hindu re-launched recently, I was wondering, 'What is this teaser campaign going on?' Under the mast-head of The Hindu newspaper - it said 'Refresh' and so on. First, I thought it could be the re-launch of a big CPG (consumer packaged goods) brand. I did not quite think it could be for the newspaper itself.

Subhas Warrier on the changing face of print media
I would have thought, selling the newspaper through its own editorial and new design should speak for itself with an explanatory note on the Op Ed page (at best). The antithesis of the existence of newspaper itself is not to de-sell your front page for the sake of advertising - moreover, for yourself - a major pain point for readers today. Talking about peculiarity, FAZ never carried a photograph on its front page until the year 2007. Now that is what I define as the character of a newspaper.

The new Hindu increasing the number of pages is significant 'news' for the industry as it seems (or at least the intention?) - it could be for the newspaper to determine the number of pages, not based on the amount of advertising volume but on its readers' appetite for news and/or deeply researched and detailed analysis of the news feature stories.

The re-launch issue was an 18-page broadsheet plus a new look 12-page Friday Review Tabloid. On Saturday, it published a 22-page broadsheet. Earlier on they were averaging 18 pages. The Sunday paper did a substantial 20 + 14 + 8... a 42-page newspaper for your Sunday reading.

Furthermore it has brought two sections to the main body. One month after the launch, The Hindu did a 46-pager last Sunday and a 52-pager before that. This is really good news for readers but still a far cry from what I cited as examples from developed markets. The type style and layout re-design has been produced well because the intention was to not lose its traditional readers, who have a conservative outlook, yet to bridge them to a contemporary future. While this was done quite tactfully, it shows how and why people do not want to change what they are so used to for so many years.

That is exactly the challenge that we all face - how to change the status quo?

The Sunday issue really shows that The Hindu newspaper has taken up the challenge and is being the flag bearer of change. Also, increasing the cover price is surely about getting into 'future mode'.

The website also seems to be slightly better indexed and better optimised for search. However, much needs to be done on the online version. This would have been a great opportunity to change both and synergise the two for a greater reader experience, and push harder for subscription for the online news feed, like the way Business Standard has done this quite remarkably.

Whilst the India we know is and was always 'many Indias' and 'many many more people' - small India, middle India, digital India, future cities (Vadodara or Vijyawada, etc.) - the media is still catering to a rather 'limited' urban metro audience.

Distressfully, there is no evidence to show what the impact of changes such as these is and what the changing trends in the background, whereby we can put a value to local news through a hyper-local media vehicle, are.

Research in India was highly respected, but today with most efforts being focussed on digital media and television we are unable to measure value comparisons of what we are buying into, both as consumers of media and as marketers - consumers of advertising inventory!

Forget big data and all that hype. Can we have some basic hygiene laid out? - Something that we all used to pride ourselves on when it came to understanding real change across the entire spectrum of media and geographies.

So are we the change? Or are we are just witnessing the changes that become unfathomable... and then do catch up game?

(The author is founder-director of Rubixkube Communications, an advertising and media consultancy Company.)