Mid Day’s two-decade run as Mumbai’s only afternoon daily was cut short by Mumbai Mirror, a city tabloid from Bennett, Coleman and Co. Ltd (BCCL), two years ago. Mid Day launched a Delhi edition in May, this year, and has completed a year in Bangalore. Meanwhile, competition in the tabloid market is intensifying. HT Media Ltd (the media house that publishes Mint) and BCCL have together launched Metro Now, a tabloid, in New Delhi. And News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch has plans to enter the South Indian market with a paper called The Sun. Tariq Ansari , managing editor, Mid Day Multimedia Ltd, spoke to Mint on 13 July about the expansion plans, competition and other aspects of the tabloid business. Edited excerpts:
Mid Day launched a Delhi edition in May. How have you positioned your new venture?
We’ve not positioned it differently. As far as Mid Day is concerned, a tabloid is just a format. Yes, tabloids have this image of being a little livelier, more entertainment-oriented. Also, there’s a lot of talk of new tabloid launches, and Mid Day tends to get clubbed with the others.
(But) we’re built on a simple principle. And the principle is that across urban centres in this country, young professionals are out and about during the day. The second principle is that these young professionals are more oriented towards entertainment, towards making more of the work day. Their interests are very specific and very common. You look at young professionals in any metro at the middle of the day, and they happen to be the same animal. It is a tabloid for obvious reasons: You want something that’s compact.
If the orientation is towards entertainment, how does that affect your approach to news?
It does affect in a number of significant ways. Either the news has to be about entertainment, or—and we’re not there 100% yet—it has to entertain me in some way. It’s got to be quick, lively; it’s got to catch my imagination. We are not the (typical) newspaper of record. There’s a lot of news on those papers that my reader finds boring. Politics, for example, is not thrilling for my reader. This impacts news selection and news display. It’s got to be graphic, short and entertaining.
Mid Day has been around for decades. How has its reader changed?
When Mid Day started, it was a simple commuter paper for Mumbai. And commuters are mainly workers. Earlier, if you asked someone what they did, they would say, “I do service.” Not so any more. They are either a finance professional, a media professional, a retail professional... So, the working person has become a young urban professional.
Where do you see your revenues coming from, subscription or advertising?
It has to come from advertising. We (Indian newspapers) are the most underpriced newspapers in the world. Until such time as publishers get together to stop this underpricing, subscription revenues are going to be just a drop in the ocean. It’s ridiculous. Mid Day sells at Rs2, and my production costs are crazy. If you go to Sri Lanka, a newspaper costs (Sri Lankan) Rs19 on Sundays.
Are you looking at other revenue streams?
We see a strong Mid Day play on the Net. We will look at digital revenues. Going forward, that will be an increasingly important part of our business. Right now ours is a “shovelware” site—what’s in the paper goes on the Web— no different from other newspaper websites. But we are working on a serious (revamp) strategy for the medium.
So, where do you see tabloids headed?
To assume from your question that tabloids might not be going somewhere is a bit of a stretch. Let us look at the two new cases. Because of their JV with Associated Newspapers, the India Today group is pulling out of their afternoon tabloid plans. They want to do a national tabloid in the morning.
As for Metro Now, I don’t know if it is a question of the chemistry between the two partners (HT Media and BCCL) working out, or whether it is something else.
It could also be that Delhi has too many papers—both Times of India (BCCL’s news daily) and Hindustan Times (HT Media’s daily) have huge circulations—(and) that there’s no space for any newspaper, tabloid or otherwise.
However, I think there is tabloid form and tabloid content. If you look at Bombay Times (Times of India’s supplement) as an example, I say it is a tabloid. It might not be tabloid in form, but it is in content. Form is only about convenience.
If you look at what people prefer in their papers—shorter stories, more visuals, more about people and celebrities— (it is obvious) they want tabloid newspapers. Which is why the Times of India is becoming so much more tabloid.
How have you dealt with competition in Mumbai?
I think you need to separate the short-term (running) of your business, and the long-term equity of your brand with consumers. The immediate impact is that you lose staff. In one year, we had a 40% turnover in critical areas such as journalists and sales people. The cost of people goes up. There is huge pressure from advertisers, because everybody (competitors) start discounting their rates. All (advertisement) rates go down.
The third thing is the cheap initial subscription (of competitors) impacts circulation in the short run. And marketing spends go up because you need to be heard.
However, what we focused on was our brand equity with the consumer. What is our brand? What do we deliver? How can we do it better? We’re now an out-of-home paper. We don’t care what you read at home. All I know is that I’m going to deliver this bright spot in the middle of your day. As a result, we’ve regained the circulation we lost.
We’re moving yields back up. We’ve begun planning for churn. It happens.
In Mumbai, commuting is a significant part of city life. And you are a commuters’ paper. How would you plan for other cities?
Distribution is a significant challenge. We’re building it up from scratch (in the new areas). By the way, it isn’t too different from what Mid Day did in Mumbai. It was so long ago that it seems there was a readymade network. This idea of hawking at traffic signals is a Mid Day innovation. We created the afternoon distribution network. So, we are innovating. The second thing is that public transportation will happen. Delhi has it (a metro rail network) already, Bangalore will have it before long.