Three to four years back the ‘compact’ looked like a popular route for many newspapers – Mumbai Mirror had been launched, Mail Today was launched, Metro Now was there, Mid-day had been a strong force in Mumbai for a while – there were all kinds of conversations on how this was the format of the future. However, a few years down the line a few of them no longer exist in the market. exchange4media seeks to find out whether the ‘compact’ (also encompassing tabloids and Berliner format) has lived up to its expectations.
Though a huge market exists for newspapers across the globe, they are under pressure from newer mediums such as television, digital and mobile. Mobile operators have been bullish in engaging the youth. Will newspapers owners in India take a lesson from this and opt for compact because it is more ‘mobile’ than a broadsheet?
Content is the key and not the form
Sandeep Bhushan, COO, Mint, explained, “The success of Mint or lack of success of other publications understates that form without appropriate substance does not excite a consumer. Mint uses a unique Berliner format (larger than a tabloid). To me, a compact will work as part of a proposition – it could be youth centric, it could be business centric, as Mint is, or it could be markets centric. It’s about how you put the format as part of the proposition. On the whole, compacts aren’t becoming an industry norm since the big dailies aren’t shifting, and that is also constrained by historical reasons. If you believe a large part of your reader base travels in a certain way and this format can be built around that, sure. However, the question that each brand has to answer is whether it has sticky content around a consumer-accepted proposition.”
The market analysts unanimously agree that content is the key and not the form. However, the importance of the ‘compact’ form, which has made a mark in the international markets, can’t be ignored. Internationally, major newspapers like The Guardian and The Independent had gone ‘compact’ from broadsheet. There are other players in this format, too, like Daily Mail, The Times, Le Monde – the list is endless. They say it’s easy to carry, easy to handle and easy to read in trains and metros.
The format of the future
In a recent interview, Suresh Balakrishnan, COO, Mail Today, had told exchange4media, “I strongly believe that compact is very much here to stay and it will only grow. You will see many of our newspapers compact, if not now, then a few years from now. It is easy to carry, it’s easy to handle, easy to read and with the Metro coming to Delhi now, you will have two million commuters on the Metro. The structure of Mid-Day is based on the fact that you can read it easily in trains in Mumbai. I feel that this is the format of the future.”
Agreeing with this view, Bhavna Jha, General Manager, TME, said, “The idea of a ‘compact’ newspaper was very exciting for the Indian market. The concept as a whole is very alluring, and I am sure many mainstream newspapers in India would have been tempted to switch to the format. Today, people are looking at convenience, and ‘compact’ makes sense as it is handy and easy to read at crowded places. If broadsheet majors were to switch to the ‘compact’ format, it might make the readers happier. The smaller the better, but content can never be compromised upon.”
When asked to comment on the ‘compact’ daily and its efficacy in the Indian market, Vidhu Sagar, Senior Vice President, Carat Media India, said “If you see things in perspective, habit change in consumers is usually induced by the marketer in a number of ways. The core proposition of your offer needs to promise a benefit that’s significantly different and much more ‘valuable’ to the prospect. Barring a few cases like the Mint launch a few years ago, the rest of the titles did not really go about promoting the form factor as a distinct part of their entry strategy. So, while the products sold or did not sell in various cases on the basis of their intrinsic quality, the compact approach did not really get promoted nor adopted by the markets willingly. Consequently, one hasn’t really seen a big time shift towards compacts.”
He further said, “While you can’t deny the benefits of a compact paper, it doesn’t necessarily turn into a compelling reason to buy or read a print title. In other words, while there are similarities between the train-reading habits of the UK readers and a market like Mumbai, where Mid-day (and also Afternoon Despatch & Courier to some extent) were benefitted by the compact form, they, too, were ultimately bought for their core offering of updated news as well as ‘masala’ offerings of myriad nature. The bottomline is while there hasn’t been a mad rush towards the compact form in India so far, it shouldn’t deter new players from trying it in future. However, emphasis will still need to be creating differentiation through innate quality of the product first.”
The Indian market has been adverse to any kind of change. It’s easy to launch a compact, but to switch from an existing format (broadsheet) to a newer one (compact) will be one giant leap. One has to also understand that there is a traditional readership of broadsheet; it is the more traditional format. The question is, whether the industry majors are willing to take that risk – which could eventually increase, or decrease their readership. It will be interesting to see if any major broadsheet is able to shed its inhibition and go ‘compact’ anytime soon.