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Jacket ads, Zee’s sting and readership

The Zee News-Naveen Jindal issue seems to be a classic instance of entrapment
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First Published: Fri, Oct 12 2012. 05 28 PM IST
Illustration: Jayachandran/Mint
Illustration: Jayachandran/Mint
Updated: Fri, Oct 12 2012. 06 45 PM IST
Jacket ads redux
I’ve received some flak for allowing Mint’s advertising department to run jacket ads three days this week, so I thought it might be pertinent to re-run a piece I wrote last year, defending the practice of carrying these ads. Here’s what I said:
“The 30 March edition was the sixth instance in the previous month that Mint carried a full-page ad on page 1.
Our advertising rules—we have plenty of those—do not allow stand-alone full-page ads on page 1, but they do allow jackets. These are ads that sort of envelop the issue. So you can have half-jackets, on pages 1 and 2. Or full jackets, on pages 1, 2, and 23, 24, or 31, 32 as the case may be.
Now, there are some readers who get annoyed by jackets.
They don’t annoy me, however (especially as long as they aren’t for a Delhi-based B-school that shall not be named here). It takes a little over Rs.8 to produce each issue of Mint. We sell the paper for Rs.3 or Rs.4, depending on the market.
The balance, and the money spent on salaries, travel and research, needs to come from advertising.
So, as long as we ensure that readers aren’t affected, I have no problems in my newspaper sporting a jacket (in the edition mentioned, for instance, the ad was for The Economist magazine, and it looked good).
One rule that helps us ensure this is the 25% one. I think broadsheets can live with a 40:60 advertising to editorial ratio. A Berliner like Mint has to live with a 25:75 one. Even a slight skew towards ads can make the paper look bad. So, if at any time, it looks like the volume of advertising could breach the 25% mark, we increase pages. Like we did to 32 on 30 March, or twice in the week before that. On the 30th, for instance, Mint’s advertising to editorial ratio was 21.8:78.2.”
I must add here, though, that Mint’s business side believes in research and, every now and then, comes to me with a really interesting insight. Luddite that I am, I usually send the insight, and the provider packing. If enough readers were to write them against jacket ads, I am sure they would listen. Do send in your e-mail, with SAY NO TO JACKET ADS marked in the subject line to feedback@livemint.com (my office, essentially) and I will collate and send the voluminous (I hope) response to the people who really matter.
Whoa, did Zee get stung?
I’ve been following the Zee News-Naveen Jindal issue with some interest, seen the police complaint filed by the latter and his company Jindal Steel alleging that the channel tried to extort money from them, and also taken note of the action initiated by the Broadcast Editors Association (BEA) that has formed a panel of worthies to investigate the issue “suo moto” because it aims to “ensure high ethical practices in the electronic media”.
I can’t help, but think that this may be a classic instance of entrapment and, can barely stop myself from rolling on the floor laughing (digression: how long before rofling enters the dictionary) at the thought of a Hindi news channel being at the receiving end of a sting operation.
The facts of the case will emerge after the police and BEA investigate the issue, but given the information on hand (and inputs from the redoubtable Shuchi Bansal, Mint’s media and marketing editor, who spoke to some people who will remain unnamed at Zee), I can safely surmise that: there were some stories in Zee on Jindal in the context of irregularities in the allotment of captive coal mines; there was some conversation between Zee and executives at Jindal Steel on an annual advertising deal; and there seem to be some recordings of these discussions.
To be sure, the discussions on the advertising may have been independent of the coverage (that’s the way it is in most places), but I’d like to reserve comment, either way, till I have heard the recordings or seen a transcript.
Till then, I will continue to relish the irony of a news channel getting stung (nothing personal there, though).
Digital readership
I knew Mint hadn’t fared well in the latest round of the Indian Readership Survey (IRS) when I didn’t have people from the marketing department dropping by with smiling faces (indeed, they didn’t drop by at all). Sure enough, Mint’s readership had dropped by 11,000 to 235,000. That was still 100,000 and 80,000 ahead of the readership of No. 4 and No. 3, but it was still a drop (and higher than the drop seen by all the other business dailies, whose readership fell, too). While I am sure there is a nice technically mundane explanation for this, I can’t help thinking that maybe we are beginning to feel the impact of more readers shifting to the digital medium.
Last year, Mint started breaking even exclusive stories on its website (instead of waiting till the next morning like our rivals still do) and the Mint newsroom recently became a truly integrated one (so, for instance, on Friday, we had an Infosys results Web flash, a first take, a quick analysis, a considered second take with analyst inputs, and an opinion piece—all within two hours of the company announcing its numbers). Our iPad app is also very popular (I get a lot of feedback from people who use it). Indeed, after we relaunched our website recently, page views are up 40% (this is unlikely to have had any bearing on the IRS number because our old, buggy site was the one up, while the survey was being conducted). To be sure, the next round may see our readership spike again, but given the profile of our readers—all smart, intelligent people, and digitally savvy—I am convinced that a wave is breaking (and we are ready to surf it).
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First Published: Fri, Oct 12 2012. 05 28 PM IST