Nobody can deny the power of print and Rahul Kansal, Brand Advisor and Business Head, Network 18, is a strong believer of its legacy. Probably that’s the reason why Network 18, which has innumerable TV and digital properties, decided to launch a weekly print newspaper as an extension of Firstpost.com. That too at a time when legacy papers are staring at an uncertain future and digital looks as the only the bright spot.
“There is a certain legacy of print as it adds stature to a news brand. It helps to recruit some of the best talent and helps to raise the overall game,” Kansal, who had earlier held senior positions at BCCL and is now spearheading the newspaper business of Network 18 group, told BestMediaInfo.com in an interview.
“Online revenues are drying up even for popular brands. So subscription model could be a steady stream,” he said.
The 20-pager high-end weekly edition will be heavy on politics, features and opinions.
On the business side of getting a print edition, he said that it would build subscription revenues for the online property as all the high-end print content will go behind the paywall.
When asked about the kind of advertisers and readers the paper is going to target, Kansal said, “It will be a paper for the top influential people in big cities. We are targeting 50,000 top people in both Delhi and Mumbai. As far as advertising is concerned, we’ll be catering to the premium brands.”
What's the reason for launching print? Is it because both you and Rahul Joshi, who’s the Managing Director of Network18, come from print? Is it more of a vanity project?
The launch of the print was to fill the overall context of the Firstpost digital brand. The brand has been progressing satisfactorily for us. It was launched seven to eight years ago and is already at the third-fourth rank in terms of the traffic in the country. Among all the top news websites, it enjoys the highest score in terms of loyalty parameters such as time spent per view, page views and others. Overall, we felt bullish about the brand and wanted to help it play a bigger game and connect with more readers by offering quality content across platforms. All said and done, there is a certain legacy of print as it adds stature to a news brand. It helps to recruit some of the best talent and raise the overall game. It also helps us to develop the subscription revenue as the high-quality content that we generate for the newspaper will go behind the paywall. Therefore, it will help us to get subscription, which is important for long-term survival of online news brands. Unless you open up online revenue streams, there will be struggle as the online revenues are drying up even for popular digital news brands.
Why did you decide to launch a weekly newspaper? Do you intend to turn it into a daily paper?
It is a high-end weekly newspaper for discerning readers. What is happening is the large newspapers are trying to cater to the mass market, which is why sometimes the top-end reader feels a bit underserved. They feel that the newspaper is too massy for their liking. Therefore, there is an opportunity for a high-end and high-quality newspaper and that is the niche we are trying to occupy.
What kind of a coverage mix will the paper carry?
It is a weekly paper so it will revolve more around features and opinion but the features will be in the hard news space. It will try to make readers understand the democracy and sociology of India. Of the 20 pages, 12 pages will be devoted to politics, featuring the people and trend that shape the exercise of power in India, especially the run after election which is something the readers will look forward too. Then some pages will be devoted to India where we will say what stand the country should take on global issues concerning the rest of the world. There are pages devoted to the trends and disruption that take place in India and lastly, a few pages for entertainment and sports. It is largely a hard news newspaper and the way we describe it is that it is the politics of everything.
What’s your outlook for the growth of print in the country and what kind of advertising revenue are you targeting from print?
The advertising for print is fairly large and strong. It is slightly de-growing around 1-2 % on the language front. But, overall it is not as de-growing like the rest of the country. The opportunity that we see for ourselves is that on Saturday, there is no newspaper that suits a premium brand. If I am a premium brand for car then I would want to advertise on weekends because that is when people will decide to shop or go for a test dive. Or if I am a premium builder like Lodha, then it is on weekends that people decide to go for site visits. Unfortunately what happens with regular newspapers is they swell on weekends and brands like Big Bazaar jackets get this premium space. So a premium brand like Lacoste gets lost inside at the same time, niche papers tend to collapse on Saturday. Like there is no ET Panache on Saturday. Also the circulation tends to drop compared to their weekday numbers. I think for a lot of upscale lifestyle brands, there very few options are available. Secondly, there are brands that seek to communicate in the corridors of power. For instance, brands like Boeing and British Petroleum tend to seek B2B campaigns as they need to reach the top-end influencers and decision makers. Reaching out through a Times of India and an ET would be an overkill to reach that high-power audience. This is an efficient way to reach to the top influential readers in Mumbai and Delhi market.
What kind of a synergy at the group level are you looking for the weekend paper?
This is a seamless part of the Firstpost experience. We have many brands catering to the upmarket readers and viewers. We have names such as CNBC, CNBC.com, News18, Money Control, Forbes and Overdrive. So we have many assets that talk to the upmarket readers and we will be able to leverage these assets to build our brand.
BCCL tried reviving the trend of weekly papers a few years ago with Crest but failed. Do you think in today's era when so much opinion is available online through very credible platforms, readers would still want to go for a hard copy title?
I won’t be able to comment on Crest but I don’t think we can dismiss it as a failure. It did well for a period of time. For a large company with a bigger fish to fry, in that larger scheme of things, it would have felt that Crest was a bit of a distraction. To produce a newspaper like Crest, it was necessary to have top minds to focus on it. So, we were like we have proven a point in producing a high-end newspaper. I don’t want to comment on Crest as I am not a part of it anymore.
We are trying to offer a newspaper that has largely a strong political kind of orientation at a time when interest in politics has resurfaced in the country. There was a time, from mid-2006 to 2008, when it was said that politics had taken a back seat. But in the past five years, it has come back in a really big way and is here to stay. Therefore, the idea of a newspaper that gives readers a chance to understand what is really happening under the surface and what is really happening in terms of electoral math of the politics is of high interest.
Print requires a massive logistical and distribution infrastructure. If you look in North and even in other regions, BCCL and up to some extent even HT hasn't allowed any other player build a strong distribution network. How are you going to overcome this challenge?
We have very fine partners. In Mumbai, we have a distributor that also distributes HT, Express, among others. They distribute around 14 newspapers and we have very fine relationship with them. So, we have good partners who know the game and have played the game for a long time.
What kind of a circulation and readership are you targeting?
We are not targeting a large number. We are looking at 50,000 readers each in the two cities. The idea is to get every copy count and that it reaches to the best readers in every corner of these cities. For, in the foreseeable future, our focus will be to understand the democracy and politics of India and going deeper in that space and geopolitics as well.