Taking “hyper-local” to another level, the Lokmat group is set to launch 200 new editions in Maharashtra in the next three years. The organisation, which is also a leading regional newspaper brand in Goa, aims to launch eight new editions taking the total tally to 10 in Goa. The group will shortly launch a first of its kind niche Marathi website on automobiles. Exchange4media engages in a chat with Karan Darda, Joint Managing Director, Lokmat Media. Below are the excerpts:
What are your expansion plans for the newspaper in the coming years?
The vision of the group is to reach out to each and every corner of Maharashtra. We aim to have one reporter and one distributor for every 5,000 people and a hyper local edition for a population of 15,000. With 57 hyper local editions and 11 full-fledged editions, our current penetration in Maharashtra is up to 97-98%. We aim to go beyond that as well.
In times when several leading groups are shutting down their print editions and are instead venturing into digital, what makes you want to expand your print base?
There is a lot that we are doing on the digital front as well, but we firmly believe that the print still has a lot of scope. Within Maharashtra, we feel there is more demand for hyper local news and wherever we have launched in recent times, we have received an overwhelming response. Our revamp of the Pune and Kolhapur editions in the last few years has bagged us the top position in both the cities. Our group’s philosophy is clear: either we have to be on the number one spot or its closest competitor.
You just said you are doing a lot on the Digital front, would you elaborate?
We are gearing to launch three new websites by this Diwali, one of them will be a first of its kind niche website on automobiles in the regional space. We believe that language is no barrier. Language should not hold us back. A Marathi reader should have access to global content. Therefore, the three new websites would be in Marathi, but very vast and global in terms of content. Also, we have recently revamped our entire digital set-up. Our digital team, under the banner Clickstart, comprises 200 staff as of today. Our websites Lokmat.com, CNXmasti are already doing very well in their respective domains. Besides, we are working extensively on convergence in smaller towns and cities.
What exactly do you mean when you say you are working on convergence?
We are trying to connect with people at the taluka (sub-district) level. We are training people who have essentially been print reporters at the taluka level to pick up a story and send it for the digital medium. There’s a lot of difference when you write for print versus when you write for digital; the narrative is different, the pictures we use are different and most importantly, everything has to be done in real time. For that, we have put in a lot of effort, spent time and resources. Starting from having a bandwidth where the story can immediately be pushed out at 12 at night, to making sure that there is someone at the other end to immediately edit the copy, someone who can look at it from the content purview and check if it fits the editorial policy of the organisation and then post it. All this has to work seamlessly. It takes a lot of effort. Therefore, as you can see, we have made our website hyper local as well.
The Print industry went through a bad phase post demonitisation. How did it impact you?
It did affect us as it did others, but we are a healthy company and we did sail through it. In terms of business, we had a very good year till Diwali.
Has there been any change in your ad rates in recent times?
Like every year, we did increase ad rates by 10% on an average across all editions during April.
What were your top line and bottom line figures for 2017?
Well, since we are not a listed company, therefore, we don’t share our numbers. However, as we said, it was a mixed bag. It was a great year till October.
The Indian Readership Survey (IRS) figures are stuck for a while. Does that affect you in any way?
Of course, we are waiting for them impatiently. We are quite confident that in several cities, particularly in cities such as Pune and Kolhapur where we have worked very hard in the last few years, we are now the leaders. Once the IRS comes out with its figures, we can aggressively announce the same.
Any other group initiatives that you would like to discuss?
We are the only group which has taken the initiative to go green in terms of converting our printing press on solar power. Out of the 11 printing press that we have, two – Nagpur and Aurangabad – are already on solar power and in the next few years, we aim to run all 11 on solar power.