At the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) conference in Mumbai, late in February 2019, Rajiv Lochan, chief executive officer of The Hindu group, said the company has 100,000 subscribers for its e-paper. Subscribers from all over the world have paid anywhere between Rs 800-1,900 ($11.5-27) to access the electronic paper. Conservative math suggests that’s total digital revenue of at least Rs 8 crore ($1.1 million). Lochan added that The Hindu implemented this strategy silently, without attracting too much attention, and paying subscribers are proof of the media company’s forward-thinking, digital strategy.
The audience in attendance took note.
100,000 people paying to read news online is no small achievement. As things stand today, no English language media company in India can claim to have 100,000 paying, digital subscribers. This makes The Hindu top of the list and the first to get there, if the numbers are to be believed.
Lochan, of course, didn’t stop at that. Knowing the audience was enthralled with his presentation, he laid on the charm:
- The Hindu has more than 5,000 subscribers who have opted for a five-year subscription to the e-paper, priced at Rs 4,000 ($57).
- The Hindu has a million registered users.
- Digital revenues now account for about 5% of the total revenue for FY18. (The total revenue of Kasturi & Sons, which publishes The Hindu and its sister publications, stood at Rs 1,173 crore ($167.5 million) in FY18, marginally lower than the previous year’s revenue of Rs 1,200 crore ($171 million). The company’s net profit also slid—going from Rs 50 crore ($7.1 million) in FY17 to just Rs 19 crore ($2.7 million) the following year.)
“These are incredible claims,” said an independent media consultant who has consulted with several media organisations, both print and broadcast. He requested not to be named. “I would be sceptical of some of the numbers. For instance, a million registered users sounds too fantastic, but I think this is a good start.” That it is, considering the fact that Indian media companies haven’t quite taken to digital unlike their peers in the West. In the United States, in particular, it has been clear for a while that circulation for daily papers has been on a declining trend. Same for revenue from print advertising. So they’ve had no recourse but to aggressively move to digital and look for other sources of revenue or risk going under. Many already have.