Newspapers on the rise in the Indian market

The segment has been tested in markets of Europe and the United States, but despite the onslaught of news on the internet, smart phones and television, Indian readers need their daily dose of news the traditional way, says, Purnendu Sen.

22 May 2013 | By PrintWeek India

When we talk about survival of the printed newspaper, there are three things that come to mind – printing, news, and news on paper. Therefore, we have to be clear as to whose survival possibilities we are asking about.

If it is printing, then let me tell you that recorded history of print media can be traced back to the 1st century BC, during the time of Julius Caesar. Thereafter, we see it appearing in China in the 8th century AD, and then on.

Unless you are sitting under the open sky in a field, looking up and admiring the blue sky, you are sure to find some printed material. Apart from newspaper, books, calendars, booklets, brochures, packets, and a number of special printing like solar printing, print on glass, print on ceramic, print on decorative tiles, you will find laminates, printed circuit board or textile printing.

We, human beings, have certain inborn traits like an inquisitive mind, and one of the manifestations of which is – seeking “news”. As a matter of fact, we always ask, “What’s the news?”, “Kya khabar hai bhai?”, “Ki khobor?”, “Yenna samacharam?”,  in one or the other language.

Even if the news means the neighbour’s promotion in office. Irrespective of medium of news and its type, everywhere, we seek news.

Why then, are we talking about the survival of the printed newspaper? I do not know if anybody has the answer! What I know certainly is, there is no need for writing the obituary of the printed newspaper

A newspaper is not a gadget

Findings of survey reports apart, we should understand that printed newspaper is not a gadget; it is a written document of time, of civilisation, of society, and of mankind. It has existed for nearly 500 years. The first printed newspaper appearing in Germany was in a report form. The first English newspaper was the London Gazette in 1668 and first English newspaper in India started on 29 January 1780 and first regional paper in 1818.

We must remember that modes of transport – horse carts to boats to ships to steam engines to aeroplanes – all have come at different times of civilisation and all co-exist even today. Similarly, we have to get going and take necessary decisions to participate in the new world of media habits. To one printed newspaper, the television, radio, internet, mobile, tablet – all will be players in new media landscape.

The issue is not about technology or commercial viability, the issue in our country is polarisation of belief and conviction by some leaders in the industry. Why do we get so worried with trends in English-speaking countries only?  Why don’t we see developments in non-English speaking countries and their newspaper industry, like Germany, Scandinavia, Japan? Why don’t we see trends in Asia?

We get so worried with news of closing of the 168-year-old News of the World, which in any case had no right to survive. But we do not celebrate when our country’s own English daily, The Times of India completes 175 years.

Why should we get unhappy with the closure of the biased Newsweek (print version) and not be happy that printed Economist continues to grow? Why are we saddened when we hear the closure of couple of town newspapers in America and not be happy with The Hindu in South India, which through positive writing and dignified journalism is growing? It is also leading in readership, which counter argues declining reading habits.

The way therefore is co-existence, I would like to cite two write-ups. One that appeared in The Times of India, Mumbai – an interview with Kiyotaka Akasaka former UN under- secretary general for communications and public information – where he said how the media in Japan is playing a positive role. He said, “You hear sometimes of anti-Japan riots in China but in Japan, newspapers encourage the opposite, stressing on tolerance and calm.” The other is an article titled ‘The possibility of co-existence’, which appeared in two parts, written by AS Panneerselvan, readers’ editor of  The Hindu, Chennai. Panneerselvan quoted in the internet edition, how great care is to be taken to avoid online abuse. Panneerselvan also quoted distinguished scholar Umberto Eco about information overload in digital place. He explained how The Hindu was using huge data on “The Kissinger Cables” from collaboration with Wikileaks.

In my view, therefore, survival of printed newspapers will depend on leaders of newspapers, who are the decision makers. Let me tell you the crisis of American printed newspapers is because of their management policies, including not taking steps to modernise at the right time.

Formats, periodicity, look etc may change but printed news will continue to be there in India, unless we want to kill them! We must remember that we have not yet achieved 25% of penetration; hence there is a long way to go.

Challenges in shared media platform environment

I feel the biggest challenge for media (any platform), particularly for printed newspaper now, is how to remain reliable and maintain a high level of discipline while following the code of conduct, especially when it comes to editorial policy and practices.

Few recent events have shown dangerous signals and there will be no point cribbing when the high pressure game is over, unless we want it to be that way.

In March 2013, in The Hindu, Chennai, Panneerselvan again quoted the Pew Research Center’s study on “The State of the News Media 2013”. The background of the study is USA, but it can happen in India too.

The study says, “A news industry that is more undermanned and unprepared to uncensored stories, dig deep into emerging ones or to question information put into its hands. And findings from our new public opinion survey released in this report reveal that public is taking notice. Nearly one third of the respondents (31%) have deserted a news outlet because it no longer provides the news and information they had grown accustomed to.”

The worst news is the endorsement of a media outlet, which proudly says that digital journalists are not opinion-generators but opinion-aggregators; and are busy with opinion polls.

In our enthusiasm to cut-cost, very commonly, editorial staff is redeemed, and investments on experienced journalists are ever reducing. If print has to survive, it has to have quality and reliable journalists.

In olden days, the editors were de facto owners. But now the scene is exactly the opposite, where editors and journalists are shoved to the corner. With social media, every young lad who has a mobile with camera has become a journalist; it is a different matter that the re-use of his composition is almost nil.

If you attend a Wan-Ifra Editors Forum, you will hear how in every country, people print for ‘truth’. If printed newspaper organisations want to earn more through paid news, then the threat of death of print surfaces.

After joint notices from the Election Commission and the Press Council, irrespective of party colour, politicians have admitted to “paying for news”. Even ex-chief minister of Maharashtra, Ashok Chavan, has reportedly indulged in paid news during the 2009 election.

All these incidents are breaking down walls in competition, with sting operations and anchors shouting and thrusting their own views, which may lead to any of the two – either regulation, or demise like News of the World.

Will we be a handicapped nation? We may emphasise on modernity and tech savvyness, etc, but recently, security personnel during its investigation, post the bomb blast in Bostan, had to clamp down on all media platforms. This, whether by design or by extemp, clearly shows that our electronic media has behaved irresponsibly. Live coverage, particularly on TV, during the terrorist attack in Mumbai in 2008, has shown how irresponsible coverage can hamper security action and how the live telecast of blood splashed all over the TV screen, can have seriously depressing psychological effects on our children.

Is this freedom of press?

Issue of media health – What experts and surveys said in the past and say about the future, especially for print.

In 2007, Pira International, in its report, “The Future of Printing in India,” a strategic five year forecast, reported that the Indian newspaper printing market would grow at CAGR of 10.5% in 2012. It is interesting to note that a FICCI-KPMG study recently published says, Indian media and entertainment industry shall achieve steady growth of 11.8% in 2013. Though not identical, inferences can be made between the two studies.

Print advertising continues to hold a major share, at 46%, it says. Print is still a growth market and language advertising in print is on a steep upswing in India. No wonder, a very traditional English newspaper like The Times of India is seen entering the West Bengal market. Now, I hear The Hindu will launch a Tamil daily.

Wan-Ifra said in its annual report on world press trends that “more than half of world’s adult population read a newspaper; more than 2.5 billion in print and more than 600-million in digital form”. Global printing circulation increased by 1.1% between 2010 and 2011. Wan-Ifra in its Shaping the Future of News Publishing (SFN) project said, “Depending on the reading habits and length of reading time the printed newspaper in many cases beats online and mobile platforms in terms of CO2 production.”

The International News Media Association (INMA) in its News Media Outlook 2013 – The Print + Digital Dynamic in Exponential Times, says “Print is not dead though it is more hopeful of digital future.”

Whatever the forecasts for 2017, we will find printed newspapers growing in India.  The above surveys are quoted just to show that it is not a biased view.

Technology and innovation

When it comes to technology for newspaper, I would divide it into three distinct areas, each requiring separate discussion – (i) news gathering, transmission, news processing and storage, which each have two elements, picture and graphics and text; (ii) surface preparation; and (iii) printing and delivery.

If we see history, we will find that throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, scientists, mathematicians and engineers in Western Europe and North America, have constantly been on an upgrade-mode, and in the 20th century, Japan has bolstered tech-support in every department.

Technology has moved from teleprinter to satellite transmission; wood block to wet collodian plates; orthochromatic to panchromatic films to application of laser to colormetric sciences; wipe-on to bi-metal to pre-sensitised to CTP; analogue to digital computing to data management to media neurtral repository for common newsroom, for the new world of print + digital.

Newspaper presses have gone through rapid changes from letterpress rotary to conventional offset to modern high-speed web offset presses; from horizontal mono unit to vertical CIC presses to nine cylinder to four-high tower; from monochrome to multi-colour to 90,000+ cph. It’s the same with mailroom and delivery technology.

We have seen many heights of tides – crisis of newspaper, government controlled STC, emergency, advent of TV, and then colour TV, dotcom, Y2K, Harshad Mehta and business again swing up till 2007.

We have gone through it all, but the printed newspaper has gone on. Indian newspaper industry has always been adoptive in terms of new technology. There’s been a continuous stream of new investments, which I consider as a “leap forward” in the press area.

In India, not only web offset press manufacturers like Manugraph and Orient, but a couple of others have done well (in terms of technology) and continue to be the main source of press supply for most of the newspapers owners.

However, today’s situation in every aspect – economic; societal; political; urbanisation and development of tier-II and tier-III towns; aspirational changes; migration to cities etc – are different and changing, so are the needs of newspaper publishing.

Our emphasis on language publications and their spread to the hinterland with local identity is enough indication that we need 12 to 16 pages all-colour presses, with speed of up to 40,000cph (maybe with a speed of 20,000cph or even 15,000cph to start with) for circulation. A slower speed machine of up to 20,000cph will be a very low-priced machine. When I say low, I mean an investment of Rs 6-crore to Rs 7-crore in the web-press. Any project cost above this, may not be what the publisher wants.

I know it is easier said than done, though I must admit there are many challenges on the route to spread of newspapers like the copier centre model.

Certainly, this is neither an imagination nor a dream. I say yes, we can, because I have the following arguments:

We hear that printing blankets are being made in India. TechNova produces Metijet, which is running an inkjet engine – writing images at unthinkable cost.

Press design – with development of material science, why don’t we think of substitute steel structure, side frames etc with economical options, because after all, 30% to 40% cost of machine building is material cost without electrical, automation and other costs. Though I agree we will remain in web offset printing, but do we need the standard seven to nine rollers in a train? Can we do with minimum safety devices and control system?

Having spent more than four decades setting up a large number of projects and working with machine building industry in India and abroad, I feel this is achieveable. However, once again I say these solutions are not to replace, but for increasing the spread of the printed newspaper in a country of 1.2-billion.

While reading these pages one might wonder as to how it is possible that the same technician who held different views on various issues of indigenous manufacturing, is now advocating a pro-India business model.

Yes, there are reasons. High investment, high-speed, high-automation and sophistication will always be required to satisfy need of large number of centres for print orders in millions and high pagination. I recently read a piece on a popular Hindi title printed from 17 locations, and I see the total production staff to circulation ratio (copies per employee), and I dare say that such figures cannot be mentioned in large output plants. There is need for every type of technology. We technicians need to know what is to be deployed where and when.

I would like to mention now what new is happening, possibly futuristic, and how do we co-exist in the print + digital environment and prove beyond doubt that there still is lot which can be done.

I feel print has to integrate, particulary with tables and smart phones. To be interactive, The Times of India's recent launch of ‘Alive’ is interesting, though I do not know what business model it has.

I wish every printed newspaper organisation, in English or vernacular, invests in digital archives or go in for a media neutral database. Depending on the company size, investment can be made in phased manner.

What could cause serious damage to the business of printed newspaper is mobile telephony and tablet PCs. There is learning to be made from Singapore’s Straits Times – how their own search engine is used as a city guide.

Google Map’s popularity for city direction leaves us with clues to develop an app which is really local, not only for city information but also for connecting people in cultural, ethnic cuisine, religions functions, to education, and link it with the printed newspaper. After all, to know the city there cannot be better people than city reporters of newspapers.

Another area is use of database, which can the circulation departments in the news paper houses enormously; data which can be developed into customer database and can be a resource for additional revenue, by using such database for demographic studies.

Making the newspaper personalised for a select group is another possibility of innovation. “Integrated inkjet” for newspaper, a process developed by Manroland Web Systems and Kodak, is now a reality. The use of this integration holds big business possibilities. It is heartening to know that German publisher, Axel Springer has ordered 19 additional installations for various locations of the company. Most interesting aspect is that such integration can be done on any model, that is, on the machine of any manufacturer. However, one needs to see the business model of such an innovation in India. Whatever it is, we are not far from achieving variable data imprinting.

However, I remain positive that newspaper technicians will come out of sombre frame of mind, to a more cheerful mood keeping faith in printing.

Cost savings

There is a cost-saving drive among newspaper organisations across the world. I feel this is warranted. There is a continuous effort in cutting both fixed as well as variable costs.

However, we must remember that certain costs are essential, particularly fresh investment in products, discarding obsolete, low productive equipment, systems etc; incurring such costs will give the newspaper player an edge over competition.

There has to be a pragmatic investment plan, which is platform neutral, adopted by every media house.

Let us not treat print as a “cancer patient”. Today, modern medical science has worked relentlessly and unitedly with conviction. As a result, there are hundreds and thousands of cancer survivors around the globe.

Let us not forget that it is still the money from print, which is invested in digital. Let us not go overboard with cost cutting drive. We must accept that failure of not encashing revenue cannot be compensated by reducing cost without affecting product quality.

If we see the cost break-up of producing newspapers, or what we call ABC analysis of cost (if you see at the company as whole or only unit cost of production) of any newspaper firm in India, it will be the newsprint cost which is the biggest, followed by manpower and energy costs. This would be a normal pattern across industry, barring some exception. In case of unit cost of production, after energy, it will be ink and then all other variables.

A cost exercise has to have a maximum thrust on newsprint cost. Every newspaper company is aware of this and they give maximum emphasis on newsprint cost.

However, most discussions are held on procurement price, inventory cost, waste saving, mileage, waste selling, etc  and what we are achieving across industry is certainly commendable. But we must know that in each of these areas, the theory of optimality comes into effect at certain level.

For example, newsprint price – anybody familiar will tell that there are many deep-rooted as well as local issues, because of which limit of stretch appears. In the same way, other related aspects, for example, zero wastage, cannot be had in a production setup.

What we possibly now need is major surgical action. Between 2000 and 2003, a large number of newspapers in India went for web width reduction – from 66-inch to 64-inch and 55-inch. Technical marketing and editorial challenges were huge, but we went through it successfully. The savings were large and remained as benefits to the newspapers, and contributed directly to the profits.

Is it time now to go to 50-inch? International papers have opted for this path. Can the industry discuss in a non-hostile atmosphere and come to new norm of size for ad-rate?

However, considering the fragmented ad revenue market, and that some companies have gone size-wise (considering the price of space), can we exploit some other avenue like reduction in cut-off, keeping the same image height?

I know readers must be getting agitated as to how this is possible. I am saying we can think and start discussing the cut-off say from 21.5-inch to 21-inch. This, I am aware will be a huge technical challenge, particularly for registration cut-off control etc in varying press speed situation. Can we be innovative? To my mind this can be done. It will mean adding to profits.

I am talking not only for new process but also for refurbishing of existing ones. Cost-benefit analysis needs to be done because there will be modification cost vis-a-vis savings of 2.5% approximately on paper consumed. Can it be a cost worth looking into?

Use of lower grammage newsprint: We have come down from 48gsm to 45gsm but there is scope of going down further to 42gsm and then to 38gsm. Most of the major newspaper have web presses equipped to run lower grammages of paper, but show-through has remained a problem. But now as I see, a Japanese ink company has developed an ink that can be used for lower grammages of paper. This, however, remains an important area of cost savings.

Cost in mailroom: For big and medium printing sites (more than 5-lakh copies per night), it is possibly now time for installing online stocking, labelling and truck load, and even introduce inserting, maybe offline.

The reasons are three-fold. In big cities, it is becoming difficult to get contract employees for night operation. Bengaluru is a clear example. Second is reducing mailroom waste. And, third is: reducing the time difference between last copy printed and last bundle despatch. From my experience, there is minimum 15-minute time saving possible.

The Cromoman 4-1 web offset press at The Times of India plant in Pune