COVID-19 impact: Print media battling on many fronts
The COVID-19 outbreak has the entire country in its grip and has brought every business to a standstill. Be it airlines, hotels & restaurants, media, retail, auto – no one has been spared from its impact. At a time when everyone is glued to their TV and mobile screens for the latest news, the print media industry, however, is staring at bleak times (at least currently) due to Coronavirus scare.
Print media players are being forced to stop their circulation. In some areas, especially Guwahati, no newspaper will be delivered till March 31. The decision has been taken by the Guwahati Newspapers Hawkers Association. Of course, in light of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement last night (March 24, 2020) about India being put under complete lockdown for 21 days, the situation has become even more grim for print media players in the coming days.
Post the #JantaCurfew on March 22, there was no print edition in Mumbai on March 23 for several big publications.
Bringing you news in extraordinary times.— mid-day (@mid_day) March 24, 2020
Even if the #newspaper doesn’t reach you in tough times, news from Mid-day’s experienced journalists will.
To read, click here - https://t.co/5phNMglQ3X
The newspaper will be back at your home soon.#madeinmumbai #middayepaper pic.twitter.com/VKzxxfJsgb
Given the present situation across the country with different states in lockdown, we have made access to our e-paper free. We know that reliable and updated news is critical during such times. #JournalismOfCourage is with you https://t.co/Q572U9U8wB pic.twitter.com/rqBXJfZWy4— The Indian Express (@IndianExpress) March 23, 2020
Dear readers, in light of the restrictions implemented in Mumbai to curb the outbreak of #coronavirus, we regret to inform you that your favourite newspaper will not be available in the city on Monday. 1/2— The Hindu-Mumbai (@THMumbai) March 22, 2020
There is no physical edition of Hindustan Times in Mumbai today on account of restrictions aimed at preventing the spread of Covid-19 that have made it difficult for our distribution partners to deliver newspapers. There is, however, an e-paper edition at https://t.co/rGQm71g8oq— Sachin Kalbag (@SachinKalbag) March 23, 2020
The problem got bigger when the news about newspapers themselves being the potential carrier of Coronavirus started spreading. This has posed a huge challenge for the print media players.
The big concern of the newspaper industry is that if the readers cancelled their subscription once, it will be very difficult to get them to re-subscribe. This would mean spending again on improving the circulation or the readers might even shift to digital platforms. The more subscriptions get cancelled, the lesser eyeballs for print players, which will lead to reduced advertiser interest.
In the last few days, there have been several videos of doctors stating that the newspaper is a potential carrier of Coronavirus and that people should handle it carefully. The word has spread very fast on the street, following which people have been cancelling their newspaper subscriptions and RWAs are banning the entry of newspaper delivery boys into their housing complexes.
Talking about the situation in the metros, an industry expert who did not want to be named, said, “In many of the societies in Delhi NCR, the RWA (Resident Welfare Association) bodies are saying no to newspapers’ entry in the society even though the senior age segments want to read the newspaper. These people are telling their members to make good with e-papers. Under the circumstances, many in the newspaper industry have started to feel that time is now to switch over to a subscription model for the e-paper. Remember, after all this is over, the newspaper industry has another challenge waiting. The hawkers’ community would want the newspaper houses to make good their losses for the period of lay-off. Else they will not lift the newspaper. So, if the newspaper has some circulation money in their kitty through paywall, it would save the situation. This, however, is for Delhi NCR. I don’t know how the situation is elsewhere. But I know for certain that print orders for many newspapers here have been curtailed. There is a huge pile of unsold newspapers remaining as hawkers, too, are not coming to the distribution point.”
WHO has not released a sector specific statement, but their official word states that it is safe to receive any package from any area where COVID-19 has been reported. The official statement says, “The likelihood of an infected person contaminating commercial goods is low and the risk of catching the virus that causes COVID-19 from a package that has been moved, travelled, and exposed to different conditions and temperature is also low.”
While the statement does not anywhere refer to newspapers, but if we closely look at the supply chain of the print media, the statement very well reflects the product category.
Since, the outbreak of COVID-19, a lot of rumours and myths have been floating around, creating misinformation in the public domain. They are being circulated via WhatsApp and other social media platforms, where people simply consume content without verifying its authenticity.
The print media industry players have been a victim of such misinformation campaigns and rumours. It is a billion dollar industry that employs thousands of people directly and indirectly. Hence, this rumour of newspapers being a potential carrier of the virus has posed a huge challenge.
The larger print media brands that command a huge market share immediately went into action to ensure that no damage is caused by this development. They have initiated multiple campaigns across different advertising platforms to spread awareness around the fact. It is important to note that the Government has also included newspapers in the list of ‘Essential Items’.
It is a big task for the print players to save their multi-billion dollar business.
Currently, the print brands are fighting on two fronts. First, they are looking toprevent the cancellation of subscriptions; and second, they need to prevent the newspaper from becoming a victim of fake news.
DD Purkayastha, MD and CEO, ABP, said, “We are not suspending print operations. We have communicated to our readers how safely we are printing and distributing. Our digital editions are on.”
Giving a perspective on the scenario in South India, Varghese Chandy, Vice President, Malayala Manorama, said, “We have never suspended printing. The Chief Minister has announced media as essential service, including print. So, printing and distribution will continue. Kerala doesn’t have a problem of hawker resistance. Kerala regional INS is planning to run a campaign on fake news and the precautions being taken by newspapers to reach the consumer.”
According to the Indian Readership Survey (IRS), India has a total of 425 million readers for print. The report states that Hindi Dailies had 186 million readers, while regional readership stood at 211 million readers. This is huge business at stake.
As the COVID-19 crisis continues to spread unabated globally, only time will tell how the print industry fares when the toughest of time are over.