Newspaper circulation in India back to nearly 75%, full recovery soon: Industry heads
The remaining 20-25% copies that are yet to make a comeback are expected to be back in circulation in a month or two, said experts at the 'Re-imagining Print’ live chat
Newspapers in the country took a hard hit during the lockdown but as most of India enter Unlock 1.0 newspaper publishing and circulation is also coming back to normalcy. The newspaper circulation in the country has come up to almost 70-75 percent said experts at the ‘Re-imagining Print’ live chat hosted by The Advertising Club Bangalore.
Sivakumar Sundaram, Chairman Executive Committee, BCCL and Girish Agarwal, Promoter Director of Dainik Bhaskar Group were the two speakers in the panel that was chaired by managing partner at the ad club, Radhika Ramani.
“The circulation of newspapers got impacted on the first week of lockdown. There were two reasons for this, one because of the national lockdown where people did not understand how to deliver the newspapers. The second reason is the rumors that were going rounds in social media on newspapers spreading the Covid-19 virus, which got clarified in a week. The circulation went down to 60-65 percent, and by April came up to almost 70-75 percent. By May-June, most of the Indian language newspapers crossed the mark of 80 percent mark,” said Agarwal.
Interestingly, Malayala Manorama has already reached 97 percent. The remaining 20-25 percent copies that are yet to make a comeback are expected to be back in circulation in a month or two.
According to Sundaram, COVID started as an urban phenomenon and therefore in the initial stages maximum impact was seen in the major cities as compared to non-urban centers.
“I want to address this issue in two ways: household copies and other institutional copies (in hotels, airlines, airports, etc.). I feel institutional copies are not so important, and it will take time as there is a lot of Work from Home happening. We are focusing on household copies, and a lot of work has been developed. We are doubling our copies, and we have crossed a 65 percent mark in circulation during the crisis. What we have found out is that the language papers got picked up during the Covid-19 crisis,” he said.
As the noise around COVID started around November 2019 none of the newspaper houses anticipated the extent of crisis the virus would lead to and the first thing most of them wanted to ensure was adequate newsprint stocks.
“We were well equipped, and the stocks were well distributed,” Sundaram said.
“As a policy, we always maintain 45-75 days of the stock. We had developed good inventories, given the softening of prices happening over the last 18 months. At the beginning of April, we were almost 70-80 percent in stock,” he added.
“We believe in Make in India,” said Agarwal.
“We take 50 percent from India, and the other 50 percent of the stock is imported. We publish newspapers from 65 locations. It was difficult in the initial two weeks to send newsprints to these markets; it was resolved. I want to stress that none of the newspaper organization in the country got shut down during the lockdown period,” he added.
Talking of revenues Agarwal said, “75 percent of the newspaper revenue is from advertising and 25 percent from circulation. We generally subsidize newspapers. During this COVID period, the volume of advertising was nil, and 75 percent of revenue went down to almost 10-30 percent. We were able to reduce the pages, and as a result, publishing cost came down, and subsidy came to zero. Because of these reasons, we were able to survive with the 10-30 percent revenue.”
For Sundaram their priority when lockdown started was to ensure that the copies are distributed. “Yes, cash flows and revenues were equally important. In my opinion, there is a max out of circulation revenue. It is not that we can endlessly increase the subscription revenue if you increase the elasticity, dynamics change. We should start re-looking at our contents,” he said.
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