Newspaper circulation revenue reaches 80-90% of pre-Covid levels this fiscal

A shift in consumer preference towards digital has impacted circulation. But full recovery is expected in the next 6 months with a new set of readers coming into the stream, said print media players

e4m by Sonam Saini
Updated: Sep 17, 2021 9:04 AM

The worst might be over for the newspaper companies with circulation back on track clocking almost 80-90% of circulation revenue of pre-COVID levels. Several print companies’ Q1 FY22 results indicated that the circulation revenue continued to improve as well over last year. For instance, DB Corp Ltd circulation revenues stood at Rs.110.6 crore in the Q1 FY22 as compared to Rs 92.8 crore in the same quarter of FY21. This shows that the company witnessed a 19.18% YoY growth. Additionally, the company’s circulation revenue QoQ grew 0.18% with circulation revenue of Rs 110.6 crore in Q4 FY21. 

Similarly, Hindustan Times (HT) Media Group’s print circulation revenue grew 23% YoY to Rs 50 crore in Q1 FY22 against Rs 41 crore in Q1 FY21. The media house's print circulation for Q4 FY21 stood at Rs 48 crore. Additionally, Jagran Prakashan Ltd’s circulation revenue was up by 14% in Q1 FY22 at Rs 84.37 crores from Rs 74.04 crores in Q1 FY21. 

Speaking at the earning calls on Q1 FY22 results of HT Media, Group CFO, Piyush Gupta shared that the company’s English print circulation revenue went up to Rs 7 crores from the lowest Rs 2 crores whereas circulation revenues for Hindi print reaches Rs 43 crores witnessing a growth of 12%.

“Circulation revenue growth was led by improvement in both realizations and copies in circulation. So a lot of pricing action also happened on the circulation copy. As a matter of fact, our RPCs are better than the same period last year across major publications and units,” said Gupta. Gupta also shared that newspaper circulation might not reach 100% of the pre-Covid level as 10-15% of newspaper readers would have exited the space in the last 18 months. 

On the importance of circulation going back to 100%,  Gupta said, “Look! it will always be welcome, but it's not like it's very necessary because one factor responsible for it might be readers who probably might not come back to a newspaper and might go towards a digital form. So 10-15% of readers would probably have vacated the space, but given Hindi and the market that it is in, there is a lot of first-time literates who are coming into the stream, so they become the new set of readers.”

Unlike advertising revenue, the second wave of COVID-19 has not adversely affected the circulation business of the print media companies, which in result might have delayed the growth but has not stopped it. 

Dainik Bhaskar in the Q1 FY22 press note stated that the company’s well-calibrated circulation strategy aided in the spectacular recovery of circulation from the first wave of Covid-19. “The continuous efforts of circulation teams resulted in more than 90% of pre-covid circulation recovery. The circulation numbers not only underscores the resilience of the Group but are also a testament to the fact that the fundamentals of the Print industry remain solid, even in the face of disruptions.” 

In an earnings call of Q1 FY22, DB Corp, Girish Agarwal, Non-Executive Director, also mentioned that the second wave was not that tragic in terms of circulation. “We are almost there. However, we further need to focus to see how we can reach the pre-Covid level faster." He further added, “What we are planning to achieve in the Q2 of this year is to go back to pre-Covid levels but I think that will now get pushed by maybe two quarters. Let us hope we get there faster.” 

According to the Indian Newspaper Society (INS) Vice President, Mohit Jain, currently, the circulation revenue is at 80-90% of the pre-COVID levels and has not been back to 100% yet. “Not many people in the newspaper industry have taken the cover price increase. There has been some contraction that happened in the circulation so it has not surpassed the pre-COVID levels yet and it might take another six months to recover fully,” said Jain. He further explained that circulation revenue depends on the number of copies that companies selling in the market which got affected as the reader shifted to the digital medium. 

Interestingly, in Kerala, unlike other states, COVID-19 did not adversely impact newspaper circulation. Varghese Chandy, VP-Marketing & Advertising Sales, Malayala Manorama, shared that, unlike the rest of the country where there was a huge drop in the circulation revenue, it didn’t happen in Kerela. “Most of the states where distribution happens through shops, in Kerala it is house-to-house delivery, and during the pandemic even in containment areas newspapers were delivered. Our government had announced how newspapers don’t spread the virus. Hence, the circulation was never affected in Kerala even during the peak time of COVID-19.” 

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