Should Indian Express invest in reviving its print media business?

It seems that Indian Express (IE) is going through restructuring so that it can raise funds to revive and grow uits print media business.

Now the question is whether it makes sense for IE to invest in building its print media business? If yes, what is the besy way forward? If no, why?

Since I run an advertising agency, I am aware of the current competitive market position of IE. I will primarily focus on two of its publications, that Indian Express (English Daily) and Financial Express (English business daily). Both the flagship newspapers of the IE group are not doing well.

In my various discussions with IE representatives, I have always raised the question that inspite of being one of the oldest newspapers and having a good editorial image, both the newspapers have been in the bottom of their respective categories. The sad part is that even after the launch of new newspapers, it has still remained at the bottom. For instance, IE was the very distant second (bottom) English newspaper after Times of India (TOI) in Mumbai. After the introduction of Hindustan Times (HT) and DNA, it has now become the distant 4th newspaper (bottom) in Mumbai. Same is the case with Financial Express. It was the bottom third newspaper after Economic Times (ET) and Business Standard (BS). Now it has become the bottom 5th after the introductioon of Mint and Business Line. So the million dollar question is wherther it makes sense for IE to invest in these publications.

From the advertisers point of view, IE has almost disappeared from their evoked set. These days with rising newspaper advertising costs, there are very few advertisers who are able to accomodate the second rung of newspapers let alone 3rd and 4th.

So what should IE do? What are its options?

Option 1: It can build upon its existing brands? What the advanatges? Existing known brands. Disdvantages: Existing brands come with its current weak market position. I feel that investing in current brands with their current positionings, that is, Indian Express and Financial Express, is going to be a waste of money. There are already strogly established leaders and followers and IE stands no chance of successfuly competing with them.

Option 2: Reposition and relaunch the brands, that is, Indian Express and Financial Express. This is a better option than option-1. However, as we are all aware it is very difficulty to get rid of the old positioning from the minds ofthe customers. Its a lengthy and expensive process. By the way, it should be noted that the amount of money required to change the positioning of a product is almost the same as launching a new product. So why not launch a new product.

Option 3: The best way to fight entrenched strong competitors is to flank them or find a niche or gap in the market. To do this, they will have to maintain status quo for the Indian Express and Financial Express while at the same time launch new products to fill the unfilled gap or serve a niche market segment. Now this is not an easy task. Though I have not studied the newspaper market but some of the potential gaps or niche in this business could be as follows:

1. Newspaper for just women. Just like a radio for just women.
2. Newspaper which is both a financial as well as a general newspaper. Why do I have to buy 2 newspapers.
3. Today practically all the financial newspapers are focussed on the top management of a company. For instance, even though I am a reasonably educated man, articles of my interest are hard to find in Business Standard or Financial Express. ET is still Ok. What I am saying is that there is a huge market for a business paper for the working class, that is, junior, middle management.

What I am saying is that there is no saturated market. One has to find a gap in the market. A simple illustrative example is that of Anchor toothpaste – a vegetarian toothpaste. By the way, one of my favorite example is that one can capture 50% of the toothpaste market by introducing a “toothpaste for women.” To my mind, this is the best solution for IE. Of course, there is another solution.

Option 4: To exit this business.

So what do you guys think?

Avinash Narula

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