Almost after a year since last IRS was declared, disputes around readership numbers of newspapers in India seems to have been put at rest. Now, calling that a set of legal and ethical dilemmas would be an understatement. It actually had all the makings of a great flick! Rims of papers, battery of lawyers, on field action, off field distraction et al. While the leader dared the challenger to take a morning challenge, the challenger speculated if that was a loud moan from a crying baby.
As someone who spent good part of career in this business, to me this was not amusing at all. What set me thinking that there must be a more sensible way to handle this ‘greed’ of achieving superiority over the other guy – hey look , we are bigger than you! Readership numbers are survey based numbers and they can best be utilised to explain the composition of a newspaper readership rather than just how many are reading the newspaper. Moreover, considering that advertisers today are looking at audience aggregation across multiple platforms including digital, do minor variations in readership number make any difference? And therefore, should newspapers be selling more and more for higher readership numbers? Is this a source of sustainable competitive advantage? Answer to these questions are NO, a big NO. Here are my reasons:
- Innovation: Newspapers need to make themselves more and more relevant to needs of other businesses that they seek to serve. Are new offerings created in an innovative way? If it does, a number two brand is in a much better position to compete effectively for the larger share.
- Re-define fundamental Value: Increasingly readership numbers are commoditized and quantitative differentiation will not count much in the fundamental value equation. Advertisers pay for a bundle of benefits and not the reach alone. Newspaper marketers need to deconstruct the extant perceived value to understand the possibilities of creating new product offerings.
- Optimal Level of Circulation: We should accept the truth. Every thousand of sold copies will not always add to readership numbers. Smart analytics can demonstrate this based on historical circulation and readership data. Therefore, older brands would be better off strengthening their readership base and finding new ways to serve businesses. In fact, my sense is that circulation and readership relationship might be a curvilinear one-cross sectional data would suggest so.
- Sustainable market leadership: Whether the newspaper is number 1 in a market or not, in my opinion, the emerging paradigms of advertising business would not really be driven by that. What would matter more is – if the newspaper can identify value creation opportunities, design value for its prospects and deliver it to its customer effectively. This capability must be demonstrated across the newspaper’s value chain and support its value delivery process.