The Economist, in an unbelievably futuristic cover story titled Who killed the newspaper, way back in 2006, had written that the last American will throw the last piece of newspaper into the dustbin by the year 2050! I trusted The Economist and its Intelligence Unit’s researches far too much to outrightly reject its forecast, but surely had thought that that would be crazy, since I came from a family where I grew up seeing my father read about a dozen odd newspapers daily; and us reading the leftover pieces – because, after he had finished reading a newspaper, it would be full of holes due to his cutting out various articles. He had a wall-sized cupboard with hundreds of drawers with articles on every possible topic in the world... well-documented and stored alphabetically. So naturally, The Economist piece set me thinking about the ramifications for and of a world without newspapers, echoing the line of thinking of my father that after all, newspapers were where we got our knowledge, and even education from. Newspapers are a significant pointer to the literacy of a nation. After college, intellectual and world-class columnists like Swaminathan and others, from newspapers, contributed to expanding my knowledge pristinely – you can imagine the respect all this embedded in me for the institution called the newspaper! So I was in a state of semi-disbelief and doubt for the past few years, post reading that cover story. But it all changed, slowly...but surely.
It all started changing around 2009 to 2011! As everyone knows, we were one of the country’s biggest ad-spenders till 2012! But interestingly, our returns from newspaper advertising started dropping sharply from 2009-2010. The first year, the admission applications we received from students due to our newspaper advertisements dropped to 40% of the levels we had in 2008-09. The next year, the same was 25% compared to 2008-09 levels. And finally in 2011-12, our applications from advertisements were, hold your breath, just 5% compared to 2008-2009! So basically, in three years, our returns from newspaper advertising came down by a mind numbing 95%! The question you might ask is, did our admissions also come down as much? Thankfully not! Yes, like the economy in general and the education industry in particular, the downturn did affect our business, but that was by a far lesser margin compared to the sharp decline in our returns from advertising! So how did we manage to stay afloat despite the disappearing returns from newspaper advertisements, you might wonder? But before that, let me tell you what we went through as we saw these sudden and massive drops!
The first year, our typical reaction was to straightaway blame the recession and not our advertising strategy. After all, those were newspapers which made us a brand and got us all the students in all those years! So newspapers were never to be questioned! The second year was when we actually started thinking, was there something going wrong with the management education sector? But such a huge drop just due to recession and lack of demand for management education? It was tough to believe! By the third year however, realisation had started to dawn upon us and we realised that newspapers as a means of advertising had not only become a thing of the past in the developed world, but also in India! Especially if you wanted to target the youth, or actually anyone born after 1980 for certain! None of them is reading newspapers anymore! So how will this segment see your ads in the first place and how will they pick up your application form? Yes, that’s the hard fact! Newspapers globally have tried to shift focus from serious content to entertainment and lifestyle in a desperate attempt to cling on to young readers! But alas, naked bodies and titillation are far more easily available and in greater variety on the internet and such a strategy of newspapers has failed worldwide to keep youngsters attracted to them! And India has been no exception, despite the most colourful of peepshow supplements taken out by all newspapers across the country!