Newspaper Industry Crashes Amid Lockdown: Mumbai, Delhi Worst Hit

80-85% of the distribution of newspapers across India has been affected due to the lockdown.

4 min read
80-85% of the distribution of newspapers across India has been affected due to the lockdown.

The 21-day nationwide lockdown in light of the coronavirus outbreak has caused the distribution chain of newspapers across the country to collapse as dailies in some parts have stopped production altogether.

Multiple vendors across Delhi-NCR, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata told The Quint that at least 80-85 percent of their distribution has been affected due to the lockdown.

Maharashtra, one of the states with highest number of positive coronavirus cases, is also the worst-affected in terms of newspaper distribution.

‘Almost No Newspaper Being Printed in Mumbai’

Speaking to The Quint, Editor-In-Chief of Hindustan Times Sukumar Ranganathan, said that almost all newspapers in Mumbai have stopped production.

“All newspapers in Mumbai have ceased production. The large issue is not on the supply end, it is not in the newsroom but at the distribution channel. There is one union in Mumbai under which all newspaper distributors have enrolled. They will take a decision on 31 March and until then there will be no newspaper.”

A senior editor with a leading Marathi daily too confirmed the same.

“There are at almost 25 regional language newspapers in Maharashtra. Some of them are the only source of information for the people of the state. Imagine lakhs of households with no access to this information now,” said the editor, who did not want to be named.

Delhi-NCR Newspaper Printing, Distribution Halves

Senior editorial staffs at both The Indian Express and The Hindu told The Quint that physical copies of the newspaper is still being printed in Delhi-NCR, but the distribution has reduced by more than half.

"We will have to wait for a few more days to know the exact numbers, however I can tell you that we are printing less number of pages and copies. The number has been reducing from since the beginning of the week," said The Indian Express employee.

Why Distribution Chain Was Affected

According to Ranganathan, there are three issues that have disrupted the supply chain:

"One, there are unfounded rumours that newspapers are infected. There are enough scientists who say that it cannot happen. Two, the physical process of delivery has become difficult as apartments and societies are refusing to let outdoor vendors for any delivery. Third, the vendors who are distributing our newspaper should not be harassed by the police, so we are closely working with vendors and authorities to get curfew passes despite newspaper being an essential commodity," said the editor-in-chief of the national newspaper.

How Distribution Is Affecting Revenue

The situation is not very different in Chennai. The Hindu, which is the leading daily in the city, has cut down on the number of pages it publishes from 21 pages to 14 during the coronavirus lockdown. The breakdown of the distribution channel has affected their advertisements, with many of their regulars already withdrawing.

“Obviously, we are not printing the regular number of newspapers as they are not reaching the set number of houses. This means that advertisements are not reaching the said number of households as well. So a lot of advertisers have already started withdrawing. But we cannot stop printing copies as it is a essential service – we have to report and provide people information. But the impact will be felt in a couple of months.” 
Marketing Executive at The Hindu

The impact on the distribution channel is also affecting leading regional newspapers like Prabhat Khabar, which is one of the largest selling daily in Bihar-Jharkhand region.

Speaking to The Quint, Ashutosh Chaturvedi, the Editor-in-Chief of the newspaper said:

“There is no doubt that the distribution of dailies have gone down, advertisers have also started withdrawing,” he added.

‘Apprehensive, People Not Allowing Us Inside Colonies’: Vendors

The newspaper vendors, on the other hand, are in two minds. One, they are anxious about collecting newspapers amid the misinformation and secondly, they see no point in delivering when residential areas would not allow them entry.

"Many people have stopped buying newspapers, fewer vendors are coming to us. Also,we used to get 70,000-80,000 papers daily which has come down to 15,000," said a distributor in Jammu, speaking to ANI.

“Our sales have gone down by 80 percent,” said Amit Goswami, a newspaper distributor in Kolkata told ANI.

“Most of our customers have stopped purchasing newspaper, saying that it can carry the virus into their homes. We are not even allowed to enter most of the housing societies,” he added.

Kailash Sharma, who delivers newspaper in a few sectors in Noida, says that his distributor has provided him masks, gloves and a sanitizer but he is still not allowed inside the colonies.

"I deliver in Sectors 26, 27 and 29 in Noida. But almost 99 percent of the places I deliver to are not allowing me inside, so I have refused to go out and collect the newspaper from the distributor in the morning. What is the use. I've told the boys who work with me to not come," he said.

PDFs, E-Papers: How Newspapers Are Coping

The Hindu's National Editor Suhasini Haidar on Thursday, 26 March, announced that the e-version of the paper will now be available at a "discounted" version.

The Business Standard, which is behind a pay wall, has waived-off all charges to ensure information flows to everyone. The Indian Express too has started releasing a PDF of the newspaper to their subscribers who are unable to collect the physical copy.

"At this point, I am not looking at what are my page views, who is looking at what I think that we are an essential service and we are trying to inform people and give them news they can use," said Ranganathan, adding that all the e-paper editions of Hindustan Times are being delivered on WhatsApp and Telegram every day.

(With inputs from ANI)

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