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COVID-19 times for print media – The rarely good, the bad & the ugly

The print media industry is taking hits from multiple ends. While many still believe that newspapers can potentially spread the Coronavirus, several distributors and hawkers have refused to arrive at distribution points as a precaution against the virus. This, along with the nationwide lockdown, has forced several print publishers to suspend circulation. 

Also read:
COVID-19 impact: Print media battling on many fronts

Here come the tough times 

The print industry is bound to see some bleak times amidst this crisis. With print circulation suspended, advertisers will definitely try to look at other avenues for their brand as communication will still be key for them. Without any newspapers being circulated, why will any advertiser now use print for communication at all? It will just be a sheer waste of money. 

The Navratri season began from March 25, 2020. And with the onset of spring/summer season, begins the busy time of the year for Air Conditioners, Coolers, summer apparel, Refrigerators, beverages, ice creams, etc. Usually, newspapers carry numerous ads around this time of the year, announcing season-ending sales and also several new brand offers. However, with newspaper circulation coming to a standstill, brands could move to other mediums such as television and digital. 

Vinita Pachisia, Senior Vice President, Carat
Vinita Pachisia, Senior Vice President, Carat

Print players might see a huge drop in revenue, especially in light of the 21-day lockdown across the country. Vinita Pachisia, Senior Vice President, Carat, observed, “For one thing, till the time that the newspaper circulation is suspended, advertisers would not like to advertise on this medium as it would be a sheer waste of money. Also, it is not just about the print medium suspending circulation, even if they do start circulation, there are residential areas that have boycotted newspapers due to fear of virus infection. This is despite several assurances given by both print publications and the medical fraternity. Till such time that a cure has been found for Covid-19, or the spread abates, the print media industry will continue to take the hit, which would definitely impact both the advertisers’ money and the print revenues.” 

The timing couldn’t be any worse 

This situation couldn’t have come at more difficult times for newspapers. Today, most people who read the newspaper everyday belong to the older generation. With the growth of digital, the younger as well as older generations are slowly shifting to digital platforms for quick news updates. 

Sanjeev Kotnala, Brand and Marketing Consultant, Intradia World
Sanjeev Kotnala, Brand and Marketing Consultant, Intradia World

This lockdown scenario might further raise the question as to how essential are newspapers.Sanjeev Kotnala, Brand and Marketing Consultant, Intradia World, remarked, “It is said that 21 days are good enough to change a habit. The readers will now have a reason to believe that the newspaper is not essential. Moreover, lockdown is the period when they really needed newspapers. It does not matter that the reason for this break in service was a distribution issue, a   union problem or it considered a fomite surface. The chain is broken. The biblical cord has been cut. And the inertia will build up.” 

Krishnarao S Buddha, Senior Category Head - Marketing, Parle Products
Krishnarao S Buddha, Senior Category Head - Marketing, Parle Products

On the other hand, Krishnarao S Buddha, Senior Category Head - Marketing, Parle Products, feels that, “Old habits die hard. My take is ‘print’ will regain its loyal audience for sure, though it may lose certain audience who are fence-sitters. Digital is gaining fast popularity among people who are hard pressed for time, especially in the mega metros. Further, digital is also attracting the younger audience by offering in brief and fast news. Social media platforms like Twitter, Whatsapp, Instagram and Linkedin are posing competition to print as well.” 

Don’t forget the Hawkers! 

While there is a potential of people getting used to other formats in the absence of newspapers, the list of print industry’s problems doesn’t end there. Hawkers themselves might not get back to the same routine. Pointing out some of these issues, an industry expert told Adgully, “Unlike in all other organised industries, where workers have been assured of their salary, the print industry has not come out with any firm announcement whether this community of hawkers would be compensated for its revenue loss. The newspaper industry is already facing an acute shortage of hawkers in big cities. This industry has not been able to attract new generation hawkers into the system. Most of the young and educated hawkers feel that a commission of 50 paise to a rupee per copy per day is too little a wage, even if it is three to four hours of a part-time job in the early morning.” 

What is the way out? 

Once things return to ‘normal’, newspapers will truly have to re-invent themselves. They will have to give an additional value to their readers – be it in terms of price or content. The return will have to disrupt the market and be radical, if the print industry wants to make an impact of any sort. 

However, the solution route isn’t as easy and we see a ‘see-saw’ kind of situation for the print industry. While limited circulation and high cover price cannot be a situation at all, even reducing the prices might not be the best of choices. After the return, even hawkers will want to get the same commission that they were getting before. Lowering prices will only burden their commission and will furthermore create an unrest in the newspaper-hawker relation. Hawkers already feel that the prices they are being paid are too low. 

While it is true that newspapers are still considered to be the most trustworthy source of news, the opportunity is out there for other formats to take that place. The situation for newspapers doesn’t seem any good – at the moment. The problems are many and solutions are few. It is an uphill battle from hereon.


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