Anirban Roy Choudhury
Media

"Last fiscal, e-papers accounted for 50% of The Hindu's digital subscription revenue," Pradeep Gairola

The Hindu has recently launched separate apps for e-papers of The Hindu and The Hindu Businessline. 75% of the readers access the e-paper on mobile devices, informs the head of Digital Media at The Hindu.

Daily broadsheet, The Hindu recently rolled out a mobile application for its e-paper edition. The app has been made available for both android and iOS users. Since the pandemic first broke in India and disrupted the circulation of newspapers, the media companies have intensified their digital play.

"A set of readers love the linear reading experience that our newspaper offers, in a digital PDF format. The number of such users is growing year on year and they have very little overlap with our website readers. This low overlap with the website and continuous growth of e-paper readers, has created an interesting revenue opportunity, which is growing at a healthy rate," explains Pradeep Gairola, Head of Digital Media at The Hindu.

Former VP and business head, Times of India Digital, Pradeep Gairola joined The Hindu in 2018. Since then he has been leading the digital expansion of the newspaper. E-paper happens to be a key constituent of The Hindu's digital play. "In the last financial year, our e-papers accounted for about 50 per cent of our digital subscription revenue. Given the growth in readership of e-paper products and the financial viability that they offer, we decided to treat our e-papers as a stand-alone offering and not just as a subset of overall digital readership," informs Gairola.

"65 per cent of our users are below 35 years of age and 80 per cent are below 45 years. The male: female ratio, by and large mirrors the website, with 30 per cent female readership."
Pradeep Gairola

He adds, "75 per cent of our readers access the e-paper on mobile devices, these readers are highly engaged and spend more than 10 mins per session. They download a lot of content, heavily bookmark articles for future reference and also love to share the content that they find interesting."

He informs that The Hindu's e-paper audience is very young. "In fact they are younger than our website audiences. 65 per cent of our users are below 35 years of age and 80 per cent are below 45 years. The male: female ratio, by and large mirrors the website, with 30 per cent female readership. In terms of interests, education followed by employment and finance are the top three categories of interest for our e-paper readers," he shares.

Students who are preparing for competitive exams, especially civil services, find The Hindu useful according to Gairola. "Every day thousands of educational institutes, across India, interpret our Editorials and Oped pages for their students. If you look at YouTube, every day you will find hundreds of videos that interpret The Hindu editorials. So clearly, students are a strong set of audience for us," he opines.

As far as geography is concerned, 95 per cent of The Hindu's e-paper readers are from India, who reside in the top 1400 towns and cities of the country. "Delhi leads the tally and is closely followed by Hyderabad, Chennai is our third-largest market. In the top 10 cities by access, for e-paper, only Jaipur and Indore do not have the print editions of The Hindu. So clearly, e-paper is a format of choice for the audience and is not essentially a forced-choice due to unavailability of our newspaper product," Pradeep Gairola asserts.

Last year, the pandemic initially affected the newspaper supplies across the country, but after the lockdown was removed, Gairola says, The Hindu started making rapid progress especially in Tamil Nadu and other southern markets. "By October 2020, we were back to normal circulation, in the household supplies," he informs. Adding, "In markets like Delhi and Mumbai, the impact was higher and we, like other newspapers, struggled with the distribution."

But in April, the second wave has hit the county like a Tsunami. Gairola feels the industry was "better prepared" to handle the lockdowns in 2021. "We have not witnessed any large impact in the distribution. By and large, we continue to be at pre-covid levels of sales, in the household segment."

The common perception is, the pandemic has brought changes in behaviour as far as consumption of media goes. As broadband penetrated into the households, families started streaming content to smart television. Similarly, newspaper, which initially was seen as a possible carrier of the virus, found more online readers. "In my opinion, newspapers are a very important part of life for a very large user base. For millions of people, they form part of their sacred morning ritual. For instance, my Mother reads three newspapers every day. After the initial hitch in 2020, she built her own mechanism to deal with her newspapers safely and has continued reading them throughout the first and second wave of Covid-19," shares head of The Hindu's digital business.

"So in short, as far as consumer behaviour towards newspapers is concerned, we don’t see any changes and it is very largely dependent on the supply. In the markets across India, where the supply got restored, newspapers got their readers back. I think, for us humans, it takes a long time to build habits. Once the habits are developed, they are very difficult to change," he adds.

"About 60 per cent of users prefer monthly packages for epaper product, this is very different from the web product wherein 70 per cent of user prefer yearly subscription,"
Pradeep Gairola

That means most of the e-paper users are new customers that The Hindu and other newspapers are acquiring. With this comes a challenge of retention. All newspapers have monthly and yearly subscription packs. Some offer quarterly and halfyearly options too.

App helps in a higher retention? "Our experiences with the apps of The Hindu web offerings is that it promotes very high consumption. On an average, The Hindu app users read 20 times more content than the web user. When a user decides to offer us a very expensive real estate of her mobile phone, some magic happens for consumption. Retention is a function of engagement, it is easy to retain engaged users. We are hoping that the majority of our epaper users will download the epaper app. If that happens, we can expect higher engagement and retention," says Pradeep Gairola.

Monthly packages are way more popular with The Hindu's e-paper users and Gairola thinks this is also linked to the popularity of The Hindu amongst students. "About 60 per cent of users prefer monthly packages for epaper product, this is very different from the web product wherein 70 per cent of user prefer yearly subscription," he concludes.