There are two ways the new owners of Mid-Day can view the paper. Both ways are valid because both are true.
The first is as an afternoon newspaper. This presumes Mid-Day is a second read for its consumer, much as the Mirror is for The Times of India subscriber. This is the view held, so far as I can tell, by the paper’s outgoing owners.
Its advantage is that it keeps intact the positioning of Mid-Day as the bearer of fresh news. It also offers differentiation: a story for Mid-Day’s space-sellers.
This view restricts the newspaper’s availability by time, through printing it in the late morning. It keeps circulation lower by default, because the afternoon vending network is smaller, and built around single-copy sales and not subscriptions.
It eliminates the irritation a section of Mid-Day’s readership feels at being given an afternoon daily at dawn. But not distributing Mid-Day at dawn denies it to those who have limited opportunity to buy the paper. For instance, commuters on trains (traffic signal sales are insignificant), who grab it going in and out of stations.
There are few allies to strengthen afternoon distribution overall, because the other evening papers have long been in decline. Therefore, this view does not concentrate on building readership through increased circulation, but attempts to improve pass-around numbers.
The second way of looking at Mid-Day is as a city daily: an alternative newspaper for an audience that does not, for whatever reason, regularly read a morning English broadsheet.
I subscribe to this second view and I believe, the paper’s new owners should consider it. It calls for an expansion through distribution, for printing the paper at night, and making it available with the morning papers.
It will mean sacrificing the current positioning of fresh news. Editorially, fresh news should not be a consideration for a tabloid, because it is not dependent on chronological news, but on treatment and selection. In any case, the fresh news battle has moved to web and mobile.
Mid-Day is Mumbai’s fifth largest English daily, with an average issue readership of under 5 lakh. It is possible, though difficult, to double this over a period of three years, bringing it back to second or third position. Mid-Day’s readership was a little under 8 lakh five years ago.
It’s true that there are more options today in Mumbai for the newspaper consumer. But few of those options are for A2B1 youth, and the trader and shop-keeper, who are the core of Mid-Day’s audience. They are the reason for Mid-Day’s rate of response, and they are not regular readers of broadsheets.
They don’t care if their paper comes out at dawn, because they see it as a newspaper and not as entertainment. They are the reason Mid-Day hasn’t gone the way of other afternoon dailies.
The editorial positioning (to the extent that there is such a thing in India) of the Times, DNA, Mirror and Hindustan Times is aimed at a higher class of reader.
The space just below that is available for Mid-Day to exploit, both by way of content and by way of distributing it more aggressively, and bringing it back to its days of dominance.
(Aakar Patel is Director of Hill Road Media. He had edited Mid-Day for six years, till the end of 2005.)