The country is witnessing 100+ days of lockdown, though it has eased a bit. The recent outbreak of the COVID – 19 has caused a tectonic shift in most people’s lives. The first three months saw no physical newspapers, subscribers slowly shifted to E Newspapers, New Channels, and digital platforms for the latest news. News consumption patterns is also seeing a transformation.
Apurva Purohit, President, Jagran Group talks to us on the innovations Mid-day has brought to the readers of Mumbai, a convenient page-by-page reading experience on smartphones, with additional multi-media features at an unbeatable price of One rupee per day. Mid-day also added to its loyal print readership by reaching 10 crore online users in the last three months. Mid-day’s Digital Tabloid is the one-stop-shop for all things #MadeInMumbai.
During this period of crisis and lockdown, how did Mid-day as an organization survive?
I am a very strong believer in this point, everybody says the crisis is a lesson, etc. I personally think whether it is as individuals, or as organizations, I do not think you change and overnight become a different type of person or organization. I strongly believe that if a person has traditionally been a greedy person he will become greedier, if he has been a generous person he will become more generous. If an organization has been prudent it will become more prudent, it exaggerates and highlights the values that have always been there, the crisis just highlights, whatever, are the core values of an organization, or an individual.
If I look at this premise the point about midday or any of the organizations that are around, Radio City, Midday, Jagran etc. I have always believed in being very prudent, bottom line-driven organizations. I think that is the reason that we did not have to do too many changes within the organization, of course, we became even more focused on the bottom line even more focused on liquidity management, and in the first quarter we did an excellent job. Whether it is improving our collections or liquidity position or pruning down unnecessary costs, all that we did. So, from a business perspective, we are okay, but as I said advertising revenues have been hit very hard, across the country we know that they are down by 75% and Mumbai was hit more because of the extended long down, the fact that Mumbai was at the epicenter of COVID, also with as a consequence, Mid-day which is essential paper was hit as hard as any other popular paper was
Take us through this new initiative with Mid-day?
During the lockdown what we saw was that, of course, we were not able to distribute the paper, interestingly at this moment we got a lot of calls from people saying that they are missing it or we know that you are not able to distribute it but suddenly that habit that was built over so many years as gone off and yes, while we are getting news from television, radio and digital that somewhat curated form coming into your house, we are missing and we like the feel of paper.
The E-paper format has always been there but not a format like newspaper, how do you get as close to the newspaper as possible, which is when we decided to launch this PDF format and I think we were first to do that. Soon after many other papers started distributing the E-paper, but nobody distributed the PDF in the scale that we did. Suddenly not only customers but also our clients were telling us that we also have a database, give us your PDF we want to send it out to our database. We have 854 alliances, where for each client we were putting a logo for them and they were distributing it to their own database so whether it was Kotak or Axis Bank or Nahar Builders, we got our client partners to distribute the paper. This is how in a very serendipitous manner it started and we were not charging for it, it was just a desire that a Mumbaikar was feeling disconnected and this is our way to connect, that is how the initiative started.
There are a lot of clickbait headlines telling us that the newspaper is dying is this initiative initiated to wean the reader back to reading the newspaper?
I have been working for 30 years in the media industry and I think after the first decade of me being there I was hearing about newspapers dying, firstly, the reality is that habits do not change so easily, India is a very complexed and layered and the newspaper was reaching a person’s house practically at no cost unlike the west they had to walk to the supermarket to buy a newspaper, the distribution chain got broken. In India the newspaper comes to our homes, you do not need to and that habit is very different therefore it will not get broken, the distribution of papers will go into your home at practically zero cost, every customer is happy with that so I do not think it is ever going to die. If I get to see the latest IRS report the readership has actually gone up.
The second thing is the point that I was making earlier that India is a multi-layered kind of ecosystem, we may feel that in a Metro, digital influence, digital use it or buying into the digital format, but if you go to semi-urban mini-metros look at the connectivity issues and it is still not very great. I know for a fact that we do our service and people turn around and say, I want my child to read a newspaper, so his knowledge improves. I think there are various reasons why people subscribe and buy a newspaper and that is not going to go away.
What has been the advertising response all through this period?
We must understand something, by media reach per se has gone up, as people are sitting at home, what else they do. We know for a fact that they were consuming one hour more of television, half an hour more of radio, consuming 20 minutes more of digital. In every which way the media consumption went up, in certain places the newspaper reach went down, but in certain parts, it did not because the paper was being distributed back to it 75 to 80% of its original circulation. Unfortunately, look at what happened to the advertisers in the complete lockdown situation their supply chains got broken their products were not available, so there was no reason for them to advertise and therefore we know for a fact that in the first quarter overall advertising has gone down by 75 to 80%, because their products, their supply chains are broken.
What will be the marketing plans for this initiative, as well as the general market?
As far as my marketing initiatives go there are two points that I am making one is that we are very aggressively increasing our print copies and PO’s back into circulation, so we are back across all the three publications in Mumbai, I am talking about which is the hardest hit even now, we are back to around, 50% of our circulation, 50% now because the lockdown is still continuing and there is a problem. In the other cities, I am not talking about Jagran back to 75%, one point is that print will survive and succeed because there are people who want the physical format, and the ease of getting it at home, that that format will continue we aggressively pushing that format too as far as marketing goes.
Now we come to the digital format what we have done is we have stopped the free PDF, instead, we have converted it to a subscription-based model, and to ensure that the consumer feels that he is getting a bang for the buck we have put in a lot of new fresh elements and innovations in the paper in the format which you would have seen, nobody else has done. Whether it is moving pictures, today if you saw the cartoon itself is animated there are videos embedded, there are interviews embedded in it. This kind of animated look and feel you can see, we launched last week and we have launched it as a subscription model, both for Midday and Gujarati Midday and our marketing plan is for the person who likesusing digital because he likes the digital format or he is not able to get the newspaper, we have given him the digital tabloid. For a person who is ableto get the paper to his house and prefers the physical paper we are marketing that too. Our marketing plan is around both the formats, the physical paper and digital tabloid, but of course the animation exactly you will get on the tabloid.
Will print be able to survive with the spike in news genre television during this period?
Two separate points one point is as follows that I think there are habits of behavior that do not change easily, and the habit is to get your paper in the morning with your cup of tea, go through it and get yourself sort of ready for the day and updated. I have never heard of anybody getting up at 7 am and switching on the television news. I do not think they will be able to deal with the noise, we must understand all these subconscious reasons why people are quietly wanting to go through a paper in the morning, when they want to get updated, through the day they will easily watch TV or listen to it or go on digital and see what is the latest news. I think morning and newspapers will continue, nobody will switch on the TV or go to digital and then to the day they will update themselves through television or digital.
The second myth is that and not many people understand is that there is so much misinformation, so much of fake news available, increasingly the customer and the consumer is asking why am I consuming so much of rubbish, I want to know accurate fact-based information and I am sorry to say this that you do not get it in television because television is so much about breaking news without having time to assimilated check the facts, and put out only fact-based information. The history of newspapers has been that the news comes in from the reporters the previous day, there is an editor who is going through it, and getting a fact check, then the final group editor sees it and then only it is put out. The credibility that you find in newspapers, unfortunately, is lacking in other media like television and even the digital news that just keeps on going out every day.
That is why people are asking for newspapers, fact-based information, and putting pressure on digital and that please give us accurate and factual news.I want to make a point that our digital newspaper is exactly a replica of our real newspaper, it is not a website that we are adding, it is an exact replica.