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Guest Column: It's corporate markets that pull print growth down: Sanjeev Kotnala

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Guest Column: It's corporate markets that pull print growth down: Sanjeev Kotnala

Print is by far the second largest media in India. It is also the least understood medium by agencies and clients. And no one seems to be interested in changing the situation. The gap between projections and realities seems to grow wider with time.

People are happy making macro-directional statements that lead nowhere. I am not sure whom to blame for it. Is it the report writers or the media pundits who fail to understand why the medium is still alive? Is it the print sales team which keeps delivering on tough targets or the print owners who bring new ideas every time there is a slow down? Or is it the country where literacy is still rising and markets have only recently started understanding what ambitions and dreams are?

The growth of print is slowing down is a polite macro statement. Some reports peg the growth rate coming down from 10 to 5 per cent, while contribution in advertising pie increasing from 34 to 41 per cent. This growth is macro and the lower figure is really the impact of corporate markets. Advertising is generated from major metro markets.

In print, budgets are getting re-rationalised and scrutinised against need and ROI. The days of largest player getting disproportionate share of revenue are over. The limited print-invested parties are trying new combinations. Here being the biggest or thickest may become a liability with lower involvement and lesser chance of ad to be seen. The print budget is shrinking.

Print’s increased dependence on ABC figures is a poor tool in the hand of sales. Its utility is not understood and with its figures there have always been an undercurrent of suspicion. 

Print has stayed away from collaborative or direct research. None of the leaders have contributed towards refinement of the science of print planning that could have enhanced engagement levels. May be this suits them. Maybe they know some secret that the rest of the industry does not even want to guess.

No one really knows the science behind those special positions and rates. Why and what should one pay for front page, back page, supplement, inside page, right page, top of the page or any other position or innovation. Then, print industry has been working on traditional unsubstantiated logics that are over there use-by date.

Regional print claims to know its markets but the local nuances; days and dates affecting a particular category are best kept secrets. It has lost a big chance of playing the role of an advisor to client and media agencies when it comes to these markets.

There is a definite shift in print media wanting to directly engage with clients. Maybe it is too late now. People at the client’s end who can take the call are no longer interested in print media.

It is tough to find a print planner (if something like that exist) but there are many print buyers. This says a lot. Print attention does not mirror agency focus, dependence, association and involvement with the other large media.
Print has remained geocentric and regional in its approach. That is understandable. For businesses centred in these markets print is still a perception, relationship and power equation led buying. And that is something print has always been good to play with. Even there, print shies away from educating agencies and clients on scientific media buying.

Corporate markets contribute between 30 and 45 per cent of the regional newspaper revenues. Here market, brand and medium in the regional markets are mysteries no one wants to solve. This is a slow slide that can gain high momentum. 

With no further interest and excitement shown by the corporate markets, print is definitely losing out in terms of growth rates. The power of print remains relevant and further enhanced in the regional markets. This is reflected in the fact that regional print brands are growing at a rate higher than metro brands, but their revenues are getting alarmingly skewed towards revenue from local businesses.

The author, Sanjeev Kotnala is Head catalyst, INTRADIA.

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