Steering a family-owned Indian newspaper

IN Media Practice | 01/09/2002
Line (BL)

Line (BL). At that time The Economic Times (ET) was the big competitor and they started a price war. We realised in the post-liberalisation era interest in business and economy news was on the rise. This decision has paid off and BL is growing steadily. Meanwhile, The Times of India (TOI) unleashed a price war in Bangalore - much like the one in Delhi - in 1996. It was then we first entered the price game. TOI started anther price war in Hyderabad in 2000 and we joined the war along with Deccan Chronicle and Express.

However, in Andhra Pradesh (AP) our circulation has grown appreciably by 65 per cent since September 2000. Now AP ranks after Tamil Nadu (TN) in terms of circulation. Circulation of the The Hindu is close to 9,00,000 now. Overall, we are doing well.

People might accuse the group of being conservative, orthodox and so on, but you will always find a plurality of views expressed in our publications by our many columnists.

Q. What has been the key to your success?

A. Even today we have not deviated from the core values of journalism - truth, credibility and authenticity. At the same time, we have to change with the times in terms of diversity of coverage and in the coverage of regional news. People might accuse the group of being conservative, orthodox and so on, but you will always find a plurality of views expressed in our publications by our many columnists.

Q. The group seems to have very strong views on the price wars among various newspapers.

A. There has to be a fine balance between commercial interest and editorial independence. You may accuse us of not being very aggressive but we have not sacrificed editorial values at the altar of crass commercial interests as some media groups have done. In some newspapers, the marketing department calls the shots and they have trivialised content. We, on the other hand, do not believe in sensationalism even while dealing with lighter issues. We have tried to address the needs of the youth and for trivia through our supplements. Even when the going was good we did not fluctuate on the page level according to the ad volume; nor did we introduce more ads in the main pages at the cost of content.

The low price charged by Indian newspapers - basically dictated by the policies of the largest group in the country - is not good for the long-term health of this industry. I would say Indian newspapers are among the lowest priced in the world. This creates a distortion in newspaper economics and they have to, willy-nilly, depend too heavily on advertising. Over-reliance on advertising is not healthy. From the editorial standpoint it hurts as your readers are your constituency, and advertising is only a means to reach them at affordable rates. However, you cannot be ridiculously cheap and depend on ads for as much as 80 per cent of your revenues.

The growth in readership created by price wars is a disruptive growth and leads to some artificiality in the numbers. In Delhi when Times OI and Hindustan Times (HT) went into a price war, the newspaper hawker was able to make money by not selling the copies at all. Price cuts reached a point where the papers sold at Re 1, while the number of pages was very high. The hawker got 40 per cent commission and so the net price he paid to newspapers was pitiful. They actually gained by not selling the paper to the readers. This led to an artificial economics or "raddi economics" which is not good for the industry.

This year has been bad for all newspapers because of the economic downturn, which translates into ad downturn for all. It highlights the importance of charging the reader a reasonable price and not a ridiculous rate. The group stands for truth and credibility. That is an awesome reputation for any media brand; what more can one hope for in this industry?

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