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Jacob Mathew

Executive Editor | 10 Sep 2010

"Currently, English newspapers reach only 1.99% in Kerala compared to the reach of Malayala Manorama alone, which is 34.47 per cent. If you look at the incremental reach, i.e., the unduplicated reach, the English newspaper comes to 0.5 per cent, which is abysmal."

Jacob Mathew, Executive Editor, Malayala Manorama, Kerala State, Publisher, The Week, and Managing Director of MM TV, joined Malayala Manorama in 1982 as Resident Editor at Calicut and moved to Kottayam in 1994 as the Executive Editor.

He was on the Board of the World Association of Newspapers (WAN) for a term of five years. He was later elevated to the WAN Executive Council. Currently, a Trustee of the Press Institute of India/ Research Institute for Newspaper Development and a member of the National Readership Council, Mathew was elected as President of the Indian Newspaper Society (INS) in September, 2005 and also served as Chairman of the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI).

In this interaction with Judy Franko, Jacob Mathew shares his thoughts on the print scenario in Kerala and the Group's foray into GEC space.

Q. Who has replaced K.M. Mathew, who passed away recently, as Chief Editor?

The news appeared in most of the media on August 18 that Mr Mammen Mathew, our eldest brother, has taken over as the Chief Editor. He has been holding key posts in the company for the past four decades and his promotion was only a natural one.

Q. There were reports of some of your organisation�s magazines being converted to the paid model? Is it true if so how is the response from the readers after this conversion and what is the annual subscription fee?

The 'Paid' model of online was something that the publishers missed in the initial phase of the online boom. Content cannot continue to be made freely available, and we are sure that quality content will be sought after by readers. There is a premium to be paid for it, which they are willing to do if the content is superior. [This has been our experience from the initial response to subscriptions to Manorama Weekly Online which has started charging for subscriptions].

Q. In the recent IRS findings, it is perhaps for the first time in recent years that a magazine like Vanitha has witnessed a steep fall in readership and the story is not different for Malayala Manorama weekly. What is your strategy going forward as far as these magazines are concerned? How you are planning to arrest further fall in the readership of these magazines?

The readership fall for magazines is a common trend in India and in many other countries. Vanitha has been able to withstand it till now. However, it is too early for us to come to any conclusion based on the latest IRS quarterly findings. We will have to wait for the next couple of quarters to see whether the actual readership is dropping or not. We need to study the trend. In spite of this, Vanitha continues to be the largest read magazine in the country and Manorama Weekly continues to be largest circulated magazine in the country. Even in the latest ABC report, Vanitha shows considerable increase in circulation.

Q. Has the slump in readership of magazines affected your advertising revenue?

Advertising revenue has not been affected. Vanitha has done fairly well, and done better during festival seasons.

Q. Coming to print, what does the future hold for print media in Kerala? Do you foresee a shakeout in the medium term?

Print medium in Kerala continues to be vibrant. It is so in many other states as well. In fact, Kerala is the only state where print and TV have an almost equal share of reach. And when it comes to specific vehicle (TRP comparison of a programme with the reach of a media vehicle), print emerges much stronger than TV. Kerala's literacy rates being such, we don't foresee any shakeout at the moment.

Q. How do you see the future for English dailies in Kerala? The Hindu and The New Indian Express have had a moderate presence in the market for sometime. Now, there is a market rumour that The Times of India will be launching an edition in Kerala sometime early next year. What do you think has spurred TOI to launch an edition in Kerala?

Currently, English newspapers reach only 1.99 per cent, compared to the reach of Malayala Manorama alone, which is at 34.47 per cent. If you look at the incremental reach, that is, the unduplicated reach, the English newspaper comes to 0.5 per cent, which is abysmal.

Q. Five years down the line, do you see English newspapers playing a major role in terms of getting advertising revenue and attracting readers in Kerala? Do you foresee any such changes happening in the market?

More newspapers are likely to come in. It can only expand the market both in terms of readership and in terms of advertising.

Q. Hypothetically speaking, five years or 10 years down the line when there is an explosion among the youth in Kerala, do you think they will still continue to read language dailies or they will show tilt towards the English dailies? What kind of role English dailies will be playing in the state then?

Increased percentage of the younger age group has been there in vogue in Kerala. This has not changed the reading habits of the Keralites. In fact, Manorama's reach among the youth has grown to 37 per cent, with a growth of 7 per cent. This indicates that Malayalam is a preferred language even among the youngsters.

Q. The advertising revenue that English dailies garner is considerably minuscule when compared to language dailies in Kerala. Given that kind of a situation, how do you think the market dynamics will change after the launch of TOI because TOI is considered a market savvy company compared to other existing English language dailies present in Kerala.

As mentioned earlier, language papers are strong in Kerala. We have seen the market performance in other states, where new editions have been launched both in regional language and in English. Based on the editorial content, one has to gain superiority.

Q. Dainik Bhaskar was a language daily. All of a sudden they collaborated with Zee and brought out DNA. Do you see anything of that kind happening in Kerala market, wherein some major group forays into the market and gets into a JV with some existing Malayalam daily?

The Kerala market is slightly different from the rest of the country. Here, the established brands are very strong with very high brand loyalty. I have no doubt the existing players will also rise to the occasion. Establishing a new brand in Kerala will require major efforts.

Q. Please share your thoughts on Malayala Manorama news channel. Are you happy with its performance?

Manorama's news channel has been doing well. We continue to be the No. 1 news channel and the operations are going on as per our planned schedule.

Q. The Group�s GEC and youth channel have been held in abeyance for long time. When those channels are likely to materialise?

A GEC is in our plans. We are working to launch it by mid-2011.

Q. How do you see the scope for another GEC in cluttered Kerala market?

If you look at any market, you will find that the clutter level of GECs of respective languages is very high, even for Hindi. However, if a new entrant is able to give a better package to the viewers, it is bound to succeed. Those who understand the Malayalee psyche well will be able to cater to the requirements better than competition.

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