Advertising in print is slowing to a trickle
Print publications, which rely heavily on advertising revenue, have been among the worst hit within the media universe, owing to the coronavirus pandemic. The industry worth Rs 30,500 crore shrunk by 3% in 2019, a FICCI-EY report suggests. Further, scaling back of advertising spends on the medium in 2020 is expected to push the print industry into the red, say media experts.
For the most part of the lockdown, newspapers across the country struggled to reach subscribers for fear of the print product or its deliverer being a carrier of the virus.
Ananda Vikatan, a Tamil Nadu-based magazine group, had to stop publication for three weeks. The magazine was unable to reach all its readers, as newsstands remained shut for nearly a month. Circulation of the magazine resumed from April 20. Marathi newspaper Lokmat was unable to reach households in Mumbai and Pune as “the local government did not grant permission for distribution,” informs Devendra Darda, MD, Lokmat Media Group.
Even though newspaper delivery has resumed in many parts of the country now, some markets like Mumbai and Pune are yet to see a full recovery of distribution, and advertising continues to be scarce.
Out of ads
Even though some brands continued to advertise, albeit conservatively, on television and digital media during the lockdown, they skipped the print medium entirely. Those that used both television and digital media to reach consumers, were mainly FMCG companies and essential products.
“These brands are not heavy users of the print medium. The categories that rely on print to reach consumers, such as real estate, education and the automotive sector, were completely shut for the last two months,” points out Ashish Bhasin, CEO – APAC, and chairman – India, Dentsu Aegis Network.
The Indian Newspaper Society has estimated the total loss to the print medium at Rs 12,000-15,000 crore. According to Jehil Thakkar, partner, Deloitte India, “Anecdotal estimates suggest that the print medium will suffer a 60-70% drop in advertising revenue on account of the coronavirus outbreak.”
Several publishers made digital versions of newspapers available free of cost for a short duration. A number of newspapers and magazines, including Indian Express, are still distributed on e-mail via tie-ups with banks; PDF versions of newspapers that are not behind paywalls are also widely distributed on WhatsApp. But this kind of digital distribution of e-papers cannot be monetised as there is no definitive way to track readership.
Although news websites and apps registered a spike in traffic, it did not bring in ad money.
Is this the right time to nudge readers to pay up for news? Darda says, even though the digital versions of his publication have witnessed a four-fold rise in user base over the last two months, “this is not the time to put newspapers behind paywalls”. “This period should be used to build a user base and get readers accustomed to reading news online. Once the situation improves, publishers can appeal to readers to subscribe.”
One of the options available to publishers is to increase the cover price of newspapers and magazines. “That would be a bold call for newspapers, especially English newspapers which are already struggling to grow their subscriptions. While there may be a case for a slight increase, it needs to be an industry-wide measure,” cautions Thakkar.
Events, an important revenue stream for publications, have also come to a grinding halt. A few print publications have begun organising web events. “Even though the response to the webinars has been very encouraging, the sponsorship revenue from on-ground events do not match up to that of digital,” says B Srinivasan, MD, Ananda Vikatan.