When the international newspapers switched to compact format there was still some time. If now, someone wants to carry a newspaper, one can do it on an iPad, rather than physically. I don't know how much time the Indian players have to switch, but I think they are late on this front. I don't think there is anymore time left for broadsheets to switch to compact...
Manajit Ghoshal has worked in varied industries, including consulting, software and pharma, before joining Mid Day Multimedia Ltd. He joined as Group CFO and is currently heading the publishing business of Mid-Day. Ghoshal is a Chartered Accountant, Cost Accountant and a Company Secretary by qualification. His pioneering effort has seen Mid-Day attain greater heights.
Mid-Day is the flagship brand of Mid Day Multimedia Ltd, a company listed on the stock exchange. Mid-Day is an afternooner and the only one of its kind. To add to the dynamic product delivery through content, Mid-Day has also been creating a unique experience for its readers and clients through globally awarded marketing initiatives. The Impact Covers and promotional activities like the Mid Day Bollywood Lunch Contest, Mid Day Happy Hours @ Work, Mid Day Media Nights and the Mid Day Corporate Cricket League have won top honours across International Award functions such as INMA, IFRA Cross Media Awards & Asia Multimedia Publishing Awards.
The company also has a strong presence in the multimedia space with its web version, www.mid-day.com with over 13 million page views per month at present. Mid-Day news feeds on cell phones, which have over 2 lakh subscribers across the country, is also hot property.
Manajit Ghoshal speaks about Mid-Day's plans for the near future to build up a strong digital and mobile base through innovation. He also speaks about various upcoming trends in the print industry in a candid conversation with Akash Raha of exchange4media. Q. According to the IRS Q2 2010 AIR figures, Mid-Day is not at the top of the pack in terms of numbers, yet it enjoys popularity amongst the advertisers. What is the reason behind it?
The industry and the B2B fraternity understand the way in which the IRS surveys are done. IRS surveys are done at home, and Mid-Day is an out of home newspaper. We are in conversation with IRS for over two years now. Unless they ask specifically which newspaper the consumer reads out-of- home, and in which case it will definitely be Mid-Day, the numbers will not come out clearly. If you merely ask 'what are you reading' then the morning newspapers with much higher circulation numbers will take precedence over Mid-Day, which is only read at offices and out-of-home. I think there is a problem, which the industry understands clearly, and they react to it accordingly. There is a clearly a measurement problem in the industry. Q. Mid-Day has been a strong force in Mumbai for over three decades now. And it has been following the compact format. About three years ago, several compacts were flown into the market. Mumbai Mirror was launched in Mumbai, Mail Today in Delhi, Metro Now was launched too. However, not all could survive the test of time. Do you think media observers were being bullish on the compact at that point of time? Do you think compact is the format of the future? How much do you think the form of Mid-Day has to do with its success?
Compact has certain advantages and certain disadvantages. Like all other formats or products, whether TV or radio, the product format always has certain pros and cons. If you see the history of compact, it was primarily developed due to the ease of reading. Broadsheets are difficult to handle while you are travelling, as opposed to compacts, which are easier to carry while you are travelling. This is apart from the cost considerations; it's easier and cheaper to produce compacts as compared to broadsheets because the newsprint costs of broadsheets are higher. But where people went wrong was that they launched the brand in the morning space. In the morning space, unless I want to carry the newspaper out of my home and travel with it, I would rather prefer a broadsheet. It gives me more news to read in a single page. Mid-Day was always for an on the move audience. Our erstwhile logo was 'Mumbai on the move'. Whenever there is a need fit and a product, it comes out right. And that is where we have come up right. Q. Regional language publications are still growing in India. Do you think that the English print industry is missing out on a trick?
Frankly, it only shows how the population pattern has evolved. More people in India are getting educated in vernacular languages, at the same time people are also graduating from vernacular language to English, because that is the language that gives you job. However, English dailies will continue to have a strong foothold only in metros. Also, English readership is decreasing because the audience is migrating to electronic medium. Q. On a broader note, what are some of the emerging trends in the print industry?
Innovation, according to me, is the key to success. People consider digital to be the future, so much so that they have stopped innovating on print. There is a lot that one can do on print medium too. We did a Rs 50 lakh worth 3D impact cover in Mid-Day, which was a huge hit. We also gave innovation a new meaning with the QR code. QR code is integrated in the newspaper and when the reader takes his mobile over the code (installed with QR codes) it starts playing automatically. A mere passive reading has been converted to a more interactive medium. People are so engrossed with the digital medium that they have forgotten that digital can be integrated with print too. Advertisers are very excited with these developments. There are a lot of innovations that can be done and Mid-Day is leading the way in it. Q. What are your digital plans? Are you trying to leverage your brand on the digital space and generate online readers? Do you think there is a revenue model in the digital space?
Six months back our traffic on Mid-day.com was over five million. In September, it had crossed 13 million. We have almost tripled our traffic by giving a focused push to the digital space. We have a team which focuses only on the digital space and we are launching new and unique properties almost every week. We have launched a reverse auction website in association with the Jagran Group, we have a bidding space, there is a digital site on classified and there is a property site that we are going to launch. Our site sees humongous numbers, in terms of traffic. I feel that the digital space is extremely monetisable. I wonder why players in the market complain that the ad revenue is not flowing in despite the increase in the number of page views. For us, it's the opposite. Our advertisers ask us to deliver the numbers and not bother about the revenue. The kind of innovative things that we come up with on the digital space our success if guaranteed. Last year, for example, my revenues in digital were Rs 20 lakh. This year, 2010-11 we are set to cross Rs 3 crore and in 2011-12 we have a target of Rs 8 crore. I want that in three years, 20 per cent of my topline comes from digital. And I am more than confident of achieving this target. Q. There are talks on how newspapers will cease to exist in future (on paper) and will only exist on mobiles and iPad devices. What are your views on it?
I am absolutely convinced that this is the only direction in which it is heading. The only question is at what pace. Some say it will be five years and some say 15, but nobody is denying the fact that such a thing will eventually happen. Not even the oldest and the most orthodox man in the print industry is denying that. Whether content can be used in the same form across all our mediums (print, online, mobile, iPads, etc.) is one of the points of concern. For example, our Mid-Day site has been reconfigured to fit the mobile, as it was inconvenient to view the width of the size on a mobile. It is essential to understand the limitations and advantages of each and every medium to make it work. There is a desktop widget that we have created, which one downloads on the desktop and gets timely reminders and news from Mid-Day. We also have a free push email service where mailers are sent twice a day about news updates. There is also a separate WAP site that we have in place. The idea is to enable the consumer to access Mid-Day in whichever form he/she wants to consume it; be it on print, mobile, online or iPad. Q. However, traditional medium like print as a whole is still growing in India. Technology is coming in slowly; 3G has not arrived in the India market yet (apart from MTNL and BSNL). Do you think the print players have done enough o push the medium further?
It's always a commercial decision. No one wants to push it to make profit after five years or ten years, as there is a commercial consideration. Can I launch a Mid-Day in Kashmir? Maybe I can, but the consideration is whether is I can wait for eight years to break even. Many of the publishing companies are listed on the stock markets and there are quarterly pressures to make profit. Long term planning has suffered due to this and the medium has probably not been pushed as much it should have been. Q. Do you think there is a problem in India because the publishers are increasingly dependent on advertisers? The content is cheap and subscription charges are low. Wouldnï¿½t charging relevant cover charges reduce this dependency a little?
I had raised this concern with all the biggies in the market, such as TOI, HT and others about six years back. They blatantly refused the suggestion. One of the publishers asked whether the suggestion was to form price cartels. To which I said that price cartels are formed to make super costs, price cartels are not made to recover your basic costs. The price at which newspapers are printed is more than the price at which they are sold. The dependence on advertisers is increasing and soon one will see the advertisers having a say in editorial content too. The editorial integrity is coming into question mark and hence, it is of prime importance that something be done about it. Since ours is a regulated sector, the government could also choose to interfere and give directives on the way cover prices are charged. Ads are easy to come by right now, but it might not be the same at all times. For Mid-Day, 85 per cent of the revenue comes from advertising and only 15 per cent from subscription fees. Q. Mid-Day was in a joint venture with Indian Express and The Times of India in the past. It now comes under the Jagran banner altogether. How have such partnerships and alliances helped and what does being associated with the Jagran Group means for Mid-Day?
We were always a small media group. We were a center of excellence, yet we knew that if we wanted to achieve newer heights, association with other media groups will help. For expansion plans, financial assistance or for operations in a new city, we needed a big brother to help us through. We did a lot of tie-ups at one point of time and not all of them were successful. However, with Jagran Group it's completely different as it's a complete buy over. Jagran is the largest newspaper in the world and the name of the brand rubs off. They are strong where we are not, and that is something that can give Mid-Day an impetus. For example, we were never a strong player in regional markets, but in Lucknow, Jagran has a huge sales team. They can sell Mid-Day in those markets. Our revenues in regional market are getting better. We also have access to Jagran presses, and other infrastructures which are spread all across India. Q. We have come out of a severe slowdown, did it impact the target time for the newspaper to break even? Were there job cuts during that period?
Yes, there were job cuts and it was a very tough period for all the players, including Mid-Day. However, it lasted for a very short period. It lasted for a lesser period than we had actually expected it to. Our expectation was this that the period would last for 24-36 months. It is harsher than we expected, but shorter than we expected. All salary cuts that happened during that period have been brought back and we are on a healthy advertisement growth and salary growth. It was a rude shock, but it cleaned up the system in media companies, including our own. Wherever there was wastage of resource, it got cleared of. Maybe it was a necessary shock. Q. What are the revenue targets for the year 2010-11?
The revenue targets for 2010-11 are in the Rs 120 crore range. We are ahead of our target as far as the current month is concerned. Actually, we should over-reach our target this year. Q. What are the upcoming marketing initiatives that Mid-Day has chalked out in Mumbai or other cities? Are you spreading to more cities?
We are not spreading in terms of new launches for the time being, but we are spreading in terms, that we are getting deeper into our existing markets. Deeper not only in terms of circulation, but over that, it's the community connect we are focusing on. For Mid-Day, if the community is 25-45 years old office workers. For them, we recently organised a corporate football, cricket and horse riding. Similarly, Gujrati Mid-Day is chiefly read by the shopkeepers and house wives. So, we organised a food festival apart from plays and Dandiya. We actually want to get into the lives of our audience to create a better connect. More copies in the market do not entail a better connect with the readers. Similarly, with Inquilab, there is a huge community building initiative that we have launched. There is a community foundation for elderly people, we have taken up issues related to Haj and there was a Shayari Sammelan that we organised too. Such initiatives help us sustain our circulation and our readerships. Q. Internationally, major broadsheet newspapers like The Guardian, The Independent, etc., have moved towards compact. Do you see that happening in India too? Do you think there is a possibility that major broadsheet newspapers in India will switch to compact?
It is absolutely possible, however, when the international newspapers switched to compact format there was still some time. If now, someone wants to carry a newspaper, one can do it on an iPad, rather than physically. I don't know how much time the Indian players have to switch (if they want to switch), but I think they are late on this front. I don't think there is anymore time left for broadsheets to switch to compact, just because it is easier to carry, as there are already easier and better medium to carry (such as mobile and iPad). Q. Mid-Day as a newspaper was for the newer audience, the office goers, or to put it more literally, the local train commuters. Are we right in understanding that this focus still continues? What is your target audience?
In Mumbai, there is a long history of Mid-Day, therefore, it will be very difficult to break away from that history. Neither do we want to break away, nor are we consciously attempting to break away. However, that should not limit the expansion of Mid Day in any way. Just because there is not a big train network, it does not mean that Mid Day can't go there. So, we are present in cities like Bangalore and Delhi. Delhi now has the Metro, but there is no train system is Delhi like in Mumbai. Yet, we are very popular in Delhi, the reason being that we have been able to crack the code. We have understood that either we can get the people to carry Mid-Day from home to office, or we deliver the paper to the office itself, where it is most convenient. So, we have cracked the difficulty in the distribution pattern by distributing in offices. Our target audience is age group 20-45, SEC AB, both male and female.
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