Benita Chacko

“Digital subscribers should overtake print in three to five years”: Business Standard’s Sachin Phansikar

The COO of the business daily sheds light on its digital-first strategy and its monetisation plans.

Despite the pandemic’s terrible impact on the print publications, it definitely has had an advantage. It has given an impetus to their digital counterparts. While the circulation of many newspapers dipped during the first wave of the pandemic, more readers flocked to their websites for their daily dose of news.

Like most other publications, Business Standard was also badly hit by the pandemic, more from the rumours that the Coronavirus may spread through contact with the newspaper. During the first wave of the pandemic in 2020, the circulation was down to almost 10%. While it has regained upto 90% of its pre-pandemic levels, its digital subscriber base has also been growing rapidly.

Sachin Phansikar, COO, Business Standard, says in the next three to five years, the digital subscribers will overtake the print subscriptions.

“Having said that, it is not going to replace print completely. For our print readership we are tapping into 35-40 plus years old readers. For digital we are tapping into those who are fresh out of college or have just entered the financial field,” he says.

Phansikar says the business daily is now on a growth trajectory. He expects double-digit growth for both print and digital. “Print should grow around 10-11%. And digital will be slightly higher,” he forecasts.

The almost five-decade-old organisation is heading towards becoming a digital-first publication. The website publishes around 300 stories per day. Around 27 to 30 stories of these are opinion pieces or analytical pieces and are behind paywall.

“Until three years ago our discussions were about strategies around print. All of a sudden the entire discussion has moved to digital. Even reporters are thinking of their stories as digital-first. In three to five years the transformation will be complete,” he adds.

Business Standard was one of the first mainstream Indian newspapers to introduce a paywall in 2016. Today, 85% of the revenue comes from advertising and 15% comes from subscriptions. Its other sources of revenue are through events and video shows.

The website attracts over 15 million unique visitors every month. It claims to be ‘the highest such number for any standalone business newspaper website in India’. In a competitive market, editorial excellence alone cannot bring in the readers. A lot of the surge can be attributed to its video shows. Business Standard currently runs two shows- The Morning Show and The Banking Show.

“Almost 35% of the digital content is video now. So we launched video shows which are aired on our website and social media properties. Through these unique and interesting properties, we ensure that we continue to occupy the primary position in the readers’ mind space. It's at very nascent stage to comment on its revenue,” he says.

Business Standard is also focussing on conducting more events. Currently, since the events are held online, it rakes in less than 5% revenue. But it intends to increase it to 5-10% soon.

“More than revenue, it's a great way to showcase our strength and leadership.”

“Digital subscribers should overtake print in three to five years”: Business Standard’s Sachin Phansikar

It recently launched a campaign promoting its print edition. The creatives highlight important insights about its readers and the audience segments its strong in. It sends a strong message to its stakeholders- readers, advertisers and agencies- that it has bounced back from the pandemic.

“By August, we will be back to 100% circulation. A major share of our circulations comes from B-schools and corporates. Our newspaper is mostly read in the offices and not much at homes. So once the colleges reopen and corporate India gets back to offices, the remaining 10% will be filled,” he adds.

“Digital subscribers should overtake print in three to five years”: Business Standard’s Sachin Phansikar

With the tagline ‘A paper as good as its reader’, the campaign stresses on the print edition. This is interesting in today’s times when most publications are pushing its digital editions. It comes from the fact that print (75%) brings in the maximum revenue for the publication. While a large part of the growth, especially after the pandemic, comes from digital, it currently only brings in 25% of the revenue.

“We are right now on the cusp. While digital is definitely going to be a growth product, it has to be well backed by print. The chief wage earner for us is print. Digital alone cannot make money. Both have to be supportive to each other. At least for some years print has to sustain itself so that it can also sustain the digital offering,” he says.

“Digital subscribers should overtake print in three to five years”: Business Standard’s Sachin Phansikar

One of the creatives states “90% of newspaper copies sold at cover price, the highest in the category.” Priced at Rs 11, the newspaper is also one of the most highly priced in the country. For example, its competitors Financial Express is priced at Rs 10 and Mint is priced at Rs 6. However, the price of the newspapers vary in different cities. But Business Standard follows a uniform price across the country. An annual digital subscription of Business Standard is priced at Rs 1799.

“We do not have any differential pricing or discounted rates. We do not believe in that. Our readers are paying Rs 11 per day to read us, and that signifies quality. We are no less than luxury products today,” Phansikar adds.

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