Indian language publications have emphasised that they have witnessed a notable upswing in revenue over the recent months. Concurrently, advertisers have recognised the significance of Indian language print publications as a valuable avenue to tap into their target markets, spurred by heightened consumption in tier-2 and 3 towns.
These regional dailies not only cater to a diverse readership spanning metro cities and towns but also facilitate precise micro-targeting for advertisers. Moreover, the sector's ascendancy has been bolstered by a substantial reduction in newsprint costs, a trend projected to continue with prices anticipated to soften further.
Growth in revenue and bottom line for the Indian language print sector
Satyajit Sengupta, Chief Corporate Sales and Marketing Officer, DB Corp, said, “Newspapers are rising and in resurgence. Our excellent results for the last few financial years as well as Q1FY24 have been testimony to the same. There is a lot of impetus behind print advertising especially in Dainik Bhaskar Group markets. This is a result of the markets performing very well across categories as well as our initiatives that have really helped drive ROI for clients. Traditional segments like education, real estate, jewellery, four-wheelers, banking and finance and government have been our top growth categories.”
Karan Darda, Executive Director, Lokmat Media highlighted that all publications took a big hit during COVID-19 and the immediate objective after that for Lokmat was to regain the lost revenue and circulation.
“In FY22, circulation numbers recovered and revenue crossed pre-COVID levels. FY23 was a really good year and we saw very good double-digit growth in the topline. The initiatives to boost efficiency that were put in place during the COVID-19 slowdown continue to pay off and the impact on the bottom line has been extremely positive,” Darda added.
I Venkat, Director, Eenadu said that language publications’ revenue has seen an upward growth in the last few months. Advertisers have certainly realised that print can play an important role in reaching their markets.
Sengupta highlighted that in terms of editorial content, the publication has been delivering a vastly superior product that is well-acknowledged by readers.
“In almost all markets that we cater to, Dainik Bhaskar is now a dominant force that commands and brings large market share and revenue. It is a first-pick newspaper with strong engagement with readers. With our efforts, we are also increasing our circulation every day. This is translating to enhanced response for advertisers.” Sengupta said.
“Our advertising initiatives have been focussed on delivering results for advertisers in terms of impact, engagement and sales. Several innovative concepts have been introduced which have resulted in our growth. Apart from the growth in advertising volumes, activities that provide reader engagement, ground connect, and create communities have become a regular part of the calendar,” he added.
Publications employing strategies to drive consumption growth in tier 2-3 towns
According to Sengupta, India’s consumption growth is largely coming from tier 2 and 3 towns, since aspiration, literacy improvement, population concentration of around 90% and improving economic indicators, all are ‘happy happening ground’ in the said part of India. With the softening of inflation, the proportion of disposable income has further increased.
“We are only concentrated in tier 2 and 3 towns of India,” he added.
Darda said that consumption power has always been there in their core markets. The challenge was more in terms of awareness and effective communication.
“At Lokmat, we have always focused on giving solutions to advertisers rather than doing plain vanilla space selling. Our approach is to tailor-make solutions for clients using print, digital, and on-ground activations and the engagement provided by our various forums to help clients meet their objectives. We have been able to provide a unique platform that brands use to not just position but entrench themselves in the consumer’s mind. This, coupled with rising disposable incomes and aspirations has fuelled consumption,” he added.
Venkat highlighted that most categories of advertisers aim at metros while a few categories like FMCG, retail etc., target tier 2 and 3 towns also.
The content in regional dailies like Eenadu caters to readers across metro cities and towns, which helps in micro-targeting for advertisers.
“Almost all major clients have opened showrooms in tier 2 and 3 towns. This has resulted in a market expanding manifold for the advertisers. Within the metro cities, every locality has a showroom of these advertisers. Categories like jewellery, and large format retail stores are a couple of examples which are growing their markets and stepping up their spends in print substantially,” he added.
Sengupta said that in the last year, new categories like technology start-ups across verticals, gaming, social media apps, and OTT players, all were seen joining the print advertising ecosystem.
“All of them saw direct results and contributed to advertising revenue for us. We could register impressive ad revenue growth on account of the stellar performance of traditional as well as above new categories,” he added.
According to Darda, some of the relatively new categories include e-commerce, health and wellness, gaming, OTT, fintech and Edtech. Real Estate and regional brands have also made a strong recovery.
Indian language publications’ revenues and circulation numbers soared
Sengupta said that Dainik Bhaskar Group’s print advertising has registered a growth of 27% in FY23. Again in Q1FY24, print advertising grew by 15% YoY.
“We expect this momentum to continue. Our circulation revenue grew by 12% from FY20-21 to FY 22-23 to Rs 463 crore,” he added.
Darda said that last year, their publication saw a very good double-digit growth in revenue. In fact, in terms of percentage growth, it was one of the best years in the recent past.
“We have our advertising revenues for the FY 2022-23 touching pre-COVID year,” Venkat said.
Impact of plummeting newsprint costs on the publications
Sengupta highlighted that newsprint prices have seen a sharp drop from around $950 per metric ton to now around $530-540 per metric ton which is around a 45% correction in prices. It is expected to further soften to new lower levels.
“Newsprint construes around 45% of overall operating cost and hence reduction in newsprint prices is directly benefiting operating profit. Our Q1FY24 net profit jumped by 154% YoY to Rs 79 crore from Rs 31 crore last year.
Darda highlighted that in the immediate aftermath of COVID-19, newsprint prices went up substantially and availability itself became a challenge. The challenge then was to ensure sufficient stock of good quality newsprint – both imported and domestic.
“The strategic objective has always been to give the reader good value in terms of quantity and quality of engaging content. While we initially felt a bit of pressure on the cost front, we kept in mind the larger objective of delivering value to the reader. Once prices normalised and the cost pressure subsided, our approach paid for itself – the readership is back - it is more engaged, and so have the advertising revenues. We have also been able to rationalise cover prices over the last 18 months. So, it is a win-win situation for all stakeholders – readers, advertisers and the publication,” he added.
Growth projections over the next few years
Sengupta said, “The Indian language print sector has been growing in strong numbers in the last couple of years’ time. With all positivity around high Indian GDP growth and India being seen as a growth engine by various international agencies like World Bank, IMF etc., we expect India to register strong consumption growth which would help deliver good ad growth, going forward.”
Speaking on the same lines, Darda highlighted that as innumerable surveys have highlighted, print medium enjoys the highest credibility amongst all mediums. This was proved again during the pandemic and this will continue to drive affinity for and consumption of print medium as a whole.
“Higher aspiration levels, increased disposable incomes, awareness, better infrastructure and
connectivity, targeted government spending and many other enabling factors work in tandem to
boost income and consumption in non-metros. This is a long-term secular trend and would drive
growth for language publications over the coming decade. As India accelerates towards being a US $5 trillion economy, a big part of the growth would be from non-metros. There are a lot of regional brands that are emerging, primarily using print media. These brands will also continue to be growth drivers,” he added.
Sengupta emphasised that the numbers speak for themselves. Speculations regarding the decline of print media have been made for the last decade now and have been misborrowed from the Western world.
He added, “Print in our country has only become stronger in the last 10 years, due to lifestyle and business model differences in India’s tier 2 and 3 towns versus the Western world. Dainik Bhaskar Group’s circulation revenue has grown by around 65% in the last 10 years, which is very stellar growth for any single product.”
“Indian language print has been leading the charge with growth in circulation and advertising revenue. The reason behind Dainik Bhaskar’s success has been the ability to engage with readers with great content. Print as a medium enjoys trust and credibility compared to other media. Within print also, Dainik Bhaskar has emerged as the most credible and trusted publication,” Sengupta said.
According to Venkat, the market is expanding rapidly not only in metros but also in tier 2 and 3 towns. A consumer does not need to travel to the metros as the products are being catered close to his tier 2 and 3 towns. Language publication has greater reach in these towns and is the only way for advertisers to reach them.
Speaking about the key challenges faced by various publications, Sengupta said that the pandemic was the largest challenge that the print industry faced but the medium has rebounded showing great tenacity. In fact, it has emerged as a more credible and engaging post-pandemic, due to fake news on social media platforms.
“Other challenges we face are in the form of high newsprint costs which have softened now. Also, certain advertising categories have been slow due to various reasons. This has only encouraged us to think of newer ways in which advertisers can associate and gain. We are committed to delivering results with the help of deep reader connect and market insights which can be converted to value for advertisers,” he added.