Rural areas will propel newspaper growth

A graduate from Ohio University, Sandeep Gupta is the executive president of Jagran Prakashan, which apart from various other titles, owns the flagship Dainik Jagran. He talks to Rahul Kumar about technologies and trends in newspaper printing and publishing; challenges and penetration of new mediums of communication at his office in Kanpur.

24 Sep 2014 | By Rahul Kumar

Rahul Kumar (RK): ‘The newspaper industry in India is a sunrise industry’. Do you think so? What kind of opportunities you do see on this front and what are the future plans of Jagran Prakashan?
Sandeep Gupta (SG)
: A relatively new industry is termed sunrise, so newspapers cannot not be termed as sunrise. In India, we observe a growth pattern. Compared to European and American counterparts, we are definitely in a better position because circulation figures have either stagnated or are declining in those markets. We do not see any stagnation or decline in the Indian market and expect a steady growth for many years to come. Increasing literacy rate, population and rise of per capita income are major reasons for newspaper growth in India.Literacy rate is around 69%. Newspapers are a strong medium of information that a literate person opts for. Rural areas will propel the growth as improved literacy is going to increase the number of readers.
RK: The upgraded lifestyle is also a reason, especially in interior and rural parts of the country ...
: Affordability and reach are major factors in this context. No doubt newspapers are growing and purchasing power has also increased. Yes, the upgraded lifestyle is also playing a key role. Earlier, a single copy newspaper was read by the many persons, but now the scenario is changing. Today, we see multiple titles in a single publication house. When it comes to information gathering, a medium does not matter. Print and electronic are the most reachable mediums in the country. Newspapers have an advantage because its reach is unmatched compared to other medias and its physical presence makes its shelf life and credibility higher.
RK: A lot has been discussed about the future of newspapers, especially in the context of new mediums of communication and information...
: Newspaper is a strong medium of communication and would remain so. Radio was launched in early twentieth century and is still in use while the format has changed. Mediums usually never die; they keep changing their forms with add-ons.
RK: Will the print medium and online medium compete with each other or complement?
: Right now, they are complementing each other. Jagran has an online portal, including epaper. We have a Jagran app for Android and iPhones. An in-house digital team is there to meet the demands. We are working on parallel mode on print as well as online. The fact is everyone consumes information; mediums may vary. If readers believe in the brand, a model can be evolved for better growth. Presently, online model is still under development. 
RK: Is poor infrastructure for online also a drawback?
: Not really. The infrastructure for online is improving rapidly. Look at the condition of internet five years back and look at it now. The penetration of internet has increased dramatically.
RK: Will we see the same jump in circulation and demand of newspapers because of online as we have seen by the entry of electronic media?
: A newspaper can be carried whenever and wherever you want. In television and radio, you are bounded by a timetable and channel. Nothing can be changed later in a printed newspaper, but in electronic and online, you have the option to update.
RK: One of the stalwarts of Indian newspaper industry once said newspapers are dying in American and European countries because they did develop them with latest technologies, along with time, do you agree?
: The important thing is how much a company wants to invest towards modernisation. Technological advancement is a must, but it should make business sense. An return on investment (ROI) should be calculated before investment. 
RK: Will there be any other business model for newspapers except circulation and advertisement?
: In digital, new innovations to generate revenue can be planned. Some options are available. Other revenue options may be contract printing.
RK: Will contract printing be a wise decision for newspaper publishers? What is the viability of this proposition?
: It all depends upon the availability of time slot and spare capacity. With the right ROI, it is a right decision.
RK: What are the new developments on the technical front in the Indian newspaper industry?
: Jagran’s printing centres are all on CTP technology since 2006 and we use both thermal and violet technologies. All printing centres are equipped with 4-Hi tower and most of the machines are equipped with auto paster and auto registration. Some upcoming developments could be Vio-green plates, and 4x1 tower format among others.
RK: Does the size (broadsheet, Berliner and tabloid) of a newspaper really matter?
: The size may matter. Publishing small format will reduce content and selling space too. Nevertheless, it also saves cost, as cover prices are low. Thus, it makes business sense. Usually, broadsheets are early morning newspapers. Smaller formats are easy to carry and are common for people who like to read on the go.
RK: How would you differentiate between indigenous and imported web offset printing presses?
: Initial investment on imported presses is high, and requires high-quality newsprint to be run on. For higher pagination levels, usually imported presses are preferred. Thanks to automation, manpower requirement comes down.
RK: Do Indian manufactured presses meet your demand?
: Most of the features are now available in Indian web offset printing presses. They fairly meet the requirement. Automation, to large extent, is now possible.
RK: Why do you have Manugraph in most of your centres? Any specific reason?
: Their quality and support, along with regular improvements have made them our preferred machine partner.

RK: Coming from a technical background, what kind of initiatives did you take and how Jagran benefited from it?
: The operations are system-oriented and all activities are monitored regularly.
RK: How do you see the future of 4x1 (double width single circumference) printing presses in India?
: 4x1 is an attractive and accepted format, a lot of big newspapers are opting for. The initial cost may be high, but surely, for higher printing orders and higher page levels, it is effective. Pluses include less wastage and less manpower, and drawbacks are you have to have skilled manpower and imported newsprint.
RK: Can a technical team of a newspaper publication house help to generate revenue?
: Yes, through innovations, technical team of a newspaper publication house can help to generate revenue. Though innovations come from advertisers, our technical team is well equipped to do any kind of innovation in our publication. 

RK: A lot of discussion on cut-off sizes and 546 mm is in the air right now. According to you, what is the suitable cut-off for Indian market?
: For the Indian market, 546 mm cut off is okay. Width has shrunk to 26.7 inches. Shrinking of web width and cut-off directly means that you are squeezing space for content and advertisement. For supplements, one can think about lower web width.
RK: For flawless production, what kind of precautions should machine, paper and ink manufacturers take?
: To achieve good quality, the tech teams have to coordinate closely with suppliers of ink, plates, chemicals newsprint, etc. Improvement is a continuous process. Printing is a collective process and has many variables. Proper preventive maintenance usually reduces downtime.  
RK: What kind of challenges do you face with high-speed production?
: Achieving consistent printing across the print order is a challenge.
RK: Is UV printing applications in the Indian newspaper industry the next big thing?
: UV is an upcoming process and can be a replacement over heatset printing.
RK: Are waterless offset plates a viable option for the Indian market?
: I have been informed by manufacturers but as yet, there are no installations.
RK: How can you keep a tab on control wastage?
: Strong initiatives are taken. Targets are set and monitored.
RK: One print job you produced which showcases the strides print technologies has taken...
: We published a fragrant newspaper for one of our advertisers.

Newspaper trends

On survival of newspapers
The time is ripe for localised and regionalised content. That’s the reason, regional languages are doing well and will continue to do so. I believe the readership of English dailies will saturate at a certain point in the near future, but right now, they are growing. The death of the newspaper is a Western concern where there is higher internet penetration (80%) and literacy rates (90%). Unlike electronic or online media, we cannot remove anything from newspapers. There is no scope for continuous 24/7 correction. Hence, newspapers become more responsible and credible. Ultimately, a newspaper is a document and readers value this.
On circulation and advertisement 
The ideal ratio of revenue from circulation and advertisement may vary from publication to publication. At Jagran, we are not happy with our ratio, but our hands are tied, since we have to compete in a very price-sensitive market. If we do not keep our eyes on our competitors and do not understand the readers’ aspirations, our newspaper will go down. We always try to maintain a balance between both the ways of earning revenue. We haven’t experienced any fall in advertising revenue. The growth was slow in 2008 due to worldwide economic slowdown. We are maintaining our growth level year on year.
On content for children and youth
We produce a single page once in a week in our supplement called Saptrang, for the target audience of 18 years and below. Also, there is Junior Jagran. Children are not the buyers and they will never be. They will read the same newspaper which arrives at their homes. We have a youth bilingual daily called iNext for the target audience of 18 to 35 years. We try to fulfill their hunger for news from entertainment, education, jobs and aspirations. The idea is that when they want to read serious content, they will automatically shift to Jagran.
On acquisition
In future, if any good proposal comes to us, which will be good for our brand, we will definitely discuss it. We did the same when opportunities for Nai Duniya and Mid-Day came to us. Now we are running them successfully and both brands are growing well. We publish in Hindi, English, Urdu, Gujarati and Punjabi languages.
On agriculture
We have a huge audience for Khet Khalihaan since around 62% of Indian population is dependent on agriculture. We have many research centres on agriculture in the Northern belt of the country and we try to provide enough material to the farmers for their land, crops, animals and other activities.