New Delhi: Eight years after the launch of its online news portal, media conglomerate Network18 is all set to take the Firstpost digital brand to the print platform. The 20-page broadsheet will hit the stands in Mumbai, Delhi and the National Capital Region every Saturday beginning this Republic Day.

“This is an attempt to build and restage the Firstpost brand overall. While we’re very bullish about the digital news portal, we felt this is one way to expand its prominence and reach. Besides, there is a market for a high-quality newspaper among discerning audiences in the large cities," said Rahul Kansal, business head of the paper and brand advisor, Network18.

Kansal said that in trying to cater to mass audiences, bigger newspapers of the country had left more discerning readers slightly estranged. The company’s projections show that a general newspaper with a political bent like Firstpost could be a self-sustaining business proposition. While Kansal did not divulge investment details, he said this is a controlled, high-quality product. The idea is to go to homes that already have a reading habit and serve as a top-up. The paper priced at 8 (and coming at an annual subscription of 299), is looking at 50,000 copies in Mumbai and Delhi each and opening up in other metros once the brand stabilizes. With an editorial team of less than 25 people (Praveen Swami, national editor at The Indian Express is group consulting editor, Firstpost editor BV Rao will lead the editorial team while senior journalist Raju Narisetti is available for consultation and guidance) and an advertising unit leveraging the strength of other Network18 brands like Fortune and Overdrive, the key is to achieve quality, not quantity.

To be sure, the Network18 product comes at a time when print media isn’t exactly going through its best phase. According to the Ficci-EY media and entertainment industry report 2018, advertising and subscription grew by only 1% and 8%, respectively, in 2017. The paper’s weekly nature is also unusual, given that online portals and social media have fuelled the need for 24x7 news.

“We wanted to offer a more thorough analysis of news. Print is a challenging medium at this time and while we’ve entered it through the weekly route, who knows how the future could unfold. Plus as a weekly newspaper, we’re not looking to displace or compete with any of the market leaders," Kansal said.

Kansal also insisted that while it’s a good time to launch the paper in the run-up to the general elections, there was no long-term plan to coincide with a political aperture.

Apart from getting rival newspapers to sample Firstpost for the first four weeks, Kansal said the company’s marketing campaign will see arrangements with airports and top hotels in both territories.

“The first phase is about getting our target audience to sample and experience the product. A week into that, we will launch a massive subscription scheme through our vendors and promoters," Kansal said.

Abneesh Roy, senior vice-president, Edelweiss Financial Services, said the newspaper would provide a good synergy benefit for the Network18 group that hasn’t been present in the category until now.

“There is space for a good weekly paper but there will also be challenges. The viability of the product will be long-term because they will have to build a weekly reading habit for readers used to dailies and advertising will be limited to niche, luxury brands," Roy said.

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