Print players remain unfazed by fresh lockdowns, feel they are better prepared now
As with several other sectors Print media, too, saw its share of declines in the COVID-19 disrupted 2020. According to the FICCI-EY 2021 report on India’s M&E industry, Print’s revenue declines were led by a 41% fall in advertising and a 24% fall in circulation revenues.
With the nationwide lockdowns in 2020, there was no printing and circulation of newspapers and publications. And even after ‘Unlock’ was announced, housing societies were seen to be reluctant to allow newspapers to be delivered for fear of spreading COVID-19 infection.
However, the festive season (October 2020) saw a revival of Print media. According to FICCI-EY report, English language newspapers were hit harder and struggled to get back their circulation post the pandemic, particularly in metros, while regional language newspapers recovered a larger portion of their lost circulation. The segment saw the establishment of a new lower-cost operating benchmark, with most print companies reducing costs by over 25%. The FICCI-EY report is optimistic of Print segment’s recovery in 2021. It expects subscription revenues to grow 25% in 2021 and exceed 2019 levels by 2023, whereas on the advertising revenues front, the report expects them to grow 25% in 2021 to reach Rs 152.1 billion.
It is this optimism that is reflecting in the print sector’s sentiments even as harsh measures are being re-introduced across the country to curb the fresh wave of COVID-19 cases. Maharashtra Government has put in place its “Break the Chain” drive, wherein a curfew has been announced across the state till the end of April 2020. But this time, Accredited Media has been included in the Essential category and newspapers, magazines and periodicals have been allowed to be printed and circulated. However, only home delivery is allowed and there will be no newsstand sales during this period. Moreover, all persons engaged in the activity are required to get vaccinated at the earliest, as per criteria of the Government of India.
So, what’s the reason for print’s optimism? Satyajit Sen Gupta, Chief Corporate Sales & Marketing Officer, DB Corp, explained, “Our recovery, which started just before the festive period last year, has been nothing short of spectacular. February and March 2021 were good months with almost all categories back to Print advertising with ad volumes higher than the pre-pandemic levels.”
He further said, “The second wave has been different from the first one since all of us are now better prepared with information and plans. The lockdown is not uniform and is happening for limited time periods in only the worst hit places.”
According to Sen Gupta, “Consumption is being driven by summer products and the heavy wedding season starting during the Navratri period. Weddings are taking place irrespective of the local lockdowns. In fact, due to the restrictions on the number of people who can be invited, the emphasis on buying jewellery, durables, vehicles and other wedding gifts is much higher this time around, resulting in higher purchase and consumption. Advertisers are realising this and are going ahead with their advertising plans with informed scheduling based on when markets are open. We are hopeful that this wave would be over soon and the recovery that we have seen would get much stronger leading to growth.”
Dhruba Mukherjee, CEO, ABP Pvt Ltd, too, said that they had not faced any restrictions till now from the Government for printing and distribution of newspapers. “Rather, the state government has been very supportive to the print industry here to ensure credible news around COVID-19 is circulated in the form of print rather than fake ones on social media.”
The Government of Kerala, too, has classified newspapers to be an essential service. Varghese Chandy, Vice President - Marketing, Advertising Sales, Malayala Manorama, opined, “It is important to have access to credible information, especially in challenging times such as these. The Government as well as the INS have said that newspapers are safe and are least likely to be carriers or the virus. The newspaper distribution in Kerala is one of the best in the world and had remained undisturbed all through 2020. Therefore, newspapers in Kerala have not been affected and will continue to be well distributed.”
At the same time, Chandy said that his organisation is taking ample precautions at the time of printing and distribution, such as wearing masks, frequent sanitization of hands, maintaining social distancing, etc.
A Mathrubhumi spokesperson also sounded equally upbeat as there is no restriction that has been imposed by the Kerala Government on newspaper distribution and production.