The worst is likely to be over for India's print industry in the next few months as newspapers across the country are working towards restoring the distribution to the pre-Covid days.
In a conversation with BestMediaInfo.com, Kaacon Sethi, Chief Corporate Marketing Officer at Dainik Bhaskar, said circulation in the last two weeks is back to the level of 75%-85% and the industry is gradually getting back on track.
"The recovery of circulation in the markets beyond the metros and particularly that of Indian language publications has been noteworthy. Recently, a large number of leading Indian language publications issued a common note to the industry, where they talked about 75-85% recovery of original circulation," she said.
Sundeep Nagpal, Founder Director, Stratagem Media, said that during the early days of the lockdown, when distribution was hit, print showed its real strength, which was the credibility and authenticity of news. "The future of print is not necessarily bleak. In the recent past, print has already adapted considerably, and it’s still very much alive and kicking," Nagpal said.
"The Covid-9 pandemic has actually brought out the strength of print as a medium. It has demonstrated and underlined its absolute dominance over other media, when it comes to authenticity and credibility of information. Publishers must understand and leverage this power. It’s a tremendous hidden opportunity, especially when audiences are getting more and more sceptical about trusting any piece of news/ information," he said.
Talking about the timeline for revenues bouncing back, Sethi said, "As the lockdown is lifted in stages and amid strict contact guidelines and the new normal ushers in resumption of production and movement, one assumes advertising will resume too."
Print industry recorded negligible revenue in the month of April and as the curbs are starting to ease, it's hopeful that some advertising would also come back.
Most major publications have already slashed the salary of their employees. Advertising revenue in the current calendar year is likely to take a beating of at least Rs 2,500 crore, experts fear.
Will readership see a permanent decline?
Due to irregular distribution over the last five weeks, marketers and media agencies are fearful that despite the credibility of print soaring to an all-time high, the overall readership may take a hit in the long run as well.
Allaying their fears, Sethi said, "The recent time spent study for print, which has been published, indicated nearly 40% people were reading the newspaper over one hour and the time spent had gone up by 60%. Nearly 50% people were reading the newspaper throughout the day. The quality of coverage and knowledge provided ensured this."
She said the credibility of the medium would ensure that the damage is covered up at the earliest.
For Nagpal as well, print doesn't rely only on one generation of readers. "The sheer inconvenience of reading a newspaper on a screen, coupled with the danger of excessive screen exposure, will be the factors that will be responsible for the recovery of print. Also, one can’t deny that there’s more than just one whole generation of audiences for whom the experience of holding and reading a newspaper, with their morning cuppa, is irreplaceable," he said.
Experts say that the Indian Readership survey might show a temporary dip but it will be recovered in a few quarters.
The strategy for growth
"Getting the delivery mechanism back on track and keeping the circulation at the pre-Covid level is the first challenge for us. In the second stage, we'd like to go back to regular number of pages and the third is that we push the medium even more in the market on the basis of quality of content, distribution strength and high-pitched marketing efforts," said a top executive with one of the largest English language dailies in the country.
He added, "This three-pronged strategy would ensure that print would start growing at a faster rate. The pandemic has shown us that we have to be active on all three fronts at all times."
Nagpal said, "In the short term, publishers would do well to invest in improving distribution and promoting circulation. But I would tend to bet more heavily on product enhancement as a more long-term measure — in terms of credibility and quality of reportage."
Sethi said publishers already have their strategy in place. "The speed with which some of the largest publications in the country have been able to regain their circulation, the editorial value being provided despite reduced pages, the care taken to sanitise vendor networks has shown their ability to bounce back in these unprecedented times."