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Print to degrow 20-25% in Apr'21-Mar'22, but huge comeback seen in last 2 Qs of FY22

Though faced with degrowth in terms of circulation, Print media has been resilient in the second wave of COVID-19 in the country. As per TAM AdEx data, Ad Space in Print soared by 4x in April 2021, even as COVID-19 cases were soaring across India. In fact, in Week 3 of April 2021, Ad Space in print surged by 6x, compared to Week 3 of April 2020.

Meanwhile, in May 2021, Ad Space/ Publication in the Print medium saw an increase of 58%, compared to May 2020.

The tally of categories grew by 19% during April 2021, whereas that for advertisers and brands rose by 24% and 32%, respectively, compared to April 2020. There were 300+ growing categories present in April 2021, compared to April 2020 on Print. Over 120+ new categories, 12.4K+ new advertisers and 14.6K+ new brands were seen in Print during April 2021.

The Top 5 advertisers collectively had 14% and 27% share of the ad space in April 2021 and May 2021, respectively. In April 2021, SBS Biotech, GCMMF (Amul), TVS Motor Company, Amazon Online India and Maruti Suzuki India were the Top 5 advertisers. In May 2021, SBS Biotech, Emami, Hindustan Unilever, Aakash Educational Services and Mankind Pharma constituted the Top 5 advertisers. 

COVID-19 second wave impact on print ad volumes 

Speaking about the Print industry, Priti Murthy, CEO, OMD India, remarked, “Familiarity breeds confidence. Having experienced the pandemic last year, the industry was better prepared for this year. Market sentiment was also positive for the first quarter and that resulted in an uptick in print ad volumes to nearly three to four times of April 2020. I believe this was driven mostly by vernacular publications. With the second wave, and the lockdown, circulation did take a hit because of which volumes dipped.”

The lockdowns have disrupted the production and distribution of newspapers and magazines across the country. In 2020, print was among the mediums which were adversely hit. Saurabh Jain, Managing Partner - South, Havas Media, pointed out, “This was mainly due to several factors like unavailability of labour, stop in circulation due to nationwide lockdown, misconceptions like spread through newspapers, etc. However, the industry is getting back to 80-90% circulation of the pre-COVID-19 levels from Q3 of 2020 and is only expected to grow further.”

Jai Lala, CEO, Zenith, noted that not only Print, but because of the second wave, a lot of mediums have got affected, including Television. According to Lala, “The impact is lesser than the first wave. During the first wave, there was a lot of unpreparedness. During the second wave, we saw that there would be a second wave or a third wave. There is this whole preparedness but yes it has impacted as market and business have shut down but it isn't as much as the first wave.” 

Is print back in the black? 

Continuing further, Lala said that while Print did get affected very badly during the first wave of COVID-19, post-October 2020 there was a huge recovery and definitely it sort of continued till March and April. According to him, the impact of the second wave is temporary and by July things will be a lot better. “We would see the recovery of print again happening. So, I won’t say that print is dead, but yes, it is not growing as aggressively as TV or Digital, but it is,” he affirmed.

Murthy believed that with the vaccination drive happening on a war-footing, the market is expected to move towards revival by August-September. “Advertisers and brands will be ready to take a flight on ads, most probably, with economic healing. Auto and healthcare are driving the revenue majorly and more categories will align with improved sentiments,” she added.

Sounding similarly optimistic, Jain said, “Being prepared has helped print media handle Lockdown 2.0 better than the first time around. Even with the second wave of the pandemic hitting the country, print saw a growth of 9% in ad volumes in the first 3 months when compared to same period last year. However, since the impact of the second wave started hitting the country in April this year despite good business, ad space for publications saw a drop in ad volumes. So, if we compare the April-May 2021 to the first three months of 2020, print business took a sizeable hit.”

According to Jain, “The drop in numbers, however, is not here to stay. The Print industry is looking at a speedy recovery as businesses start to open in phases across the country. Industry experts are expecting the recovery to begin around festive season that takes off around end of July/ beginning of August.”

Advertiser sentiment 

Speaking on the strength of the Print medium, OMD India’s Murthy pointed out, “Print is a trusted medium for advertisers with a regular subscriber base. The lockdown has caused distribution issues and there is an onward trend towards digitalization for brands, definitely. But print remained strong in regional media through this entire time period and is likely to revive once the situation eases more.” 

Giving a break-up of category-wise advertising in Print, Jain of Havas Group observed that retail advertising has almost normalised, while corporate advertising is expected to reach normal levels with the complete opening of the metro markets. Categories such as auto, FMCG, real estate, consumer durables, BFSI, jewellery have been highly active in the festive months. “We do observe a reduction in quantity of ads/ advertiser, but it is being compensated by categories like education, which have really picked up.” 

Regional print has the potential to recover faster than English print, since in any case, the potential for print and its sustenance, in the past few years, has been in regional upcountry markets. Jain explained, “The sustenance of circulation and readership is relatively easier in regional markets because of habitual dependence on digital sources for news is relatively lower. Also, due to the few months of non-availability of physical newspapers, English audiences in metros have gotten sort of used to sourcing news digitally. So, the reading habits on print media have been replaced by digital sources for a small proportion of the audience, I would imagine – especially as one moves to the younger set. We, however, expect these people to be back on the medium soon. The experience of reading a Newspaper, the choice, the variety and the quality of articles, the authenticity of News are all being missed and are irreplaceable.” 

Zenith’s Lala, too, stressed on the trust factor of print media and said, “The thing that established during the pandemic for the print media is that it is a trust-worthy medium, so it has got very strongly established because there is a lot of chatter going on social media and on digital platforms and, therefore, there is where the print established the right thing. If you want to communicate something related to trust, print is a reliable platform to do.”

Projections for print advertising 

According to Jain, “Though Print spending is expected to grow in the coming months, we see print degrowth of 20-25% during April 2021-March 2022 as compared to the pre-COVID-19 period. Recovery journey for overall advertising spends seems to be steady, but slow as there is a lot of ambiguity around.

Having said that, we see a huge comeback by Print during the last 2 quarters of this financial year, this may be at par or even higher than a similar period pre-COVID-19 (Oct-Mar 2020).” 

Murthy saw the shake-up in Print continuing on 2021 as she said that Print is facing its toughest transition ever. “The degrowth is evident in numbers since last year. Print is dependent on few categories and with vaccination and other measures, once things open up it should see some better numbers,” she opined. 

Lala noted, “Financial year 2021 is something where print have got impacted and due to the second wave it saw a degrowth. The year 2022 will definitely see a growth over 2021, however, it is difficult to predict in the given time and situation how much that growth will be, because we have to gauge the true impact of the second wave and also factor in the likely impact of the expected third wave. However, as mentioned earlier, there is a lot more preparedness on both the sides – marketers as well as the publishers – and, therefore, we are definitely sourcing a growth on Print in 2022.”

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