Aishwarya Ramesh

Despite the Coronavirus pandemic, print still holds promise, thrives…

On Day 2 of Languages Week, a panel discussed the continuing promise of print, as regional brands continue to grow, despite the pandemic.

On the second day of Languages Week yesterday (Tuesday, October 27), a panel came together to discuss the factors that contribute to the print medium’s resilience, in the face of the Coronavirus pandemic. Some challenges were related to distribution, ad rates and credibility when the world is bombarded with fake news.

Despite the Coronavirus pandemic, print still holds promise, thrives…

The panel included Basant Rathore, senior VP, strategy, business development and brand at Jagran Prakash; Monica Nayyar Patnaik, managing director, Sambad Group; Varghese Chandy, VP, marketing and advertising sales at Malayala Manorama; and Samrat Phadnis, editor of traditional and digital media at Sakal Media Group. The session was moderated by Anirban Roy Choudhury, associate editor at afaqs!.

The panel took stock of where the print industry was, before COVID hit. Malayala Manorama’s Chandy began by referencing a recent IRS report that stated that print reached 87 per cent of people in Kerala, television had 81 per cent penetration levels and Internet, 56 per cent.

“Though all these numbers are high, you need to understand that television was never able to overtake print’s reach in Kerala; even in a pre-COVID situation,” says Chandy. As far as advertising goes, he said that the state (Kerala) had received nearly two continuous years of rain (in 2018 and 2019). This affected business for all three mediums to a great extent and the growth was somewhat stunted.

Jagran Prakash’s Rathore said that though print is doing well right now, there is a space and specific time for every medium. He pointed to the work that he had undertaken in Tier-II and III cities to understand the news consumption landscape and where print stood there.

“We hold a pretty strong and important position in people’s lives, and I don’t see print as a medium and its relevance being sidelined at all. It’s relevance is increasing by the day. If consumers want to form an opinion, think, reflect, contemplate, they tend to turn to a newspaper for that.”

He says that as a medium, print doesn’t intrude on your time with ads. You can choose to read what you want to and ignore what you want to, unlike TV, where an ad break is not something that can be skipped.

“This nature of print has worked brilliantly in its favour. The kind of language, tonality we’ve created, and the customisation for local markets, it’s a strength that can’t be replicated.”

Sambad Group’s Patnaik recalled the WAN IFRA (World Association of News Publishers) conference held in Kolkata in 2016. She was part of a panel that debated on the future of print medium in a topic themed ‘Newsroom 2020’.

She recalled that at the time, many organisations in Europe and America were shutting down newspapers in a bid to go digital. She mentioned that even at that time, the consensus was that nothing would happen to print in India. It would thrive because of the nature of its citizens and the diversity of its population.

She added that regional (print medium) newspapers were thriving because of a demand for content in local languages. “You can’t doubt and disregard the onset of the digital medium, but in my opinion, the reading habits and India’s diversity is going to stay. We did see a bit of slump post-COVID, but we’re surprised that we were able to recover the kind of circulation and readership which we had earlier – it’s quite heartening to see.”

Choudhury asked the panel about the penetration of the print medium in metro versus non-metro cities in India. Chandy said that in Kerala, there was no differentiation between urban and rural audiences.

“The only differentiation I can think of is that in a metro city (in Kerala), people prefer local language newspapers over English language ones. The number one newspaper in Kerala has a penetration rate of around 0.5 per cent, as compared to Malayala Manorama, which alone has a penetration rate of 28.6 per cent,” Chandy said.

Rathore said that there is a blurring of lines happening between metro and non-metro cities, and that access to trends, aspiration, affordability are all on the rise in the latter. He mentioned that even e-commerce platform Amazon had quoted that 90 per cent of its new subscriptions are coming from Tier-II and III markets.

“The growth of Indian language newspapers in metro cities is higher than that of English language newspapers. This can be attributed to migration that happens from non-metro to metro cities. The people who migrate want to consume news about their state in their own language. This resulted in a large number of circulation and readership gain for local language publications.” Rathore called it the best of both worlds, as they have dominant readership in non-metro markets as well as metro cities.

Watch the full discussion here.

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