20/20. The perfect vision. An unobstructed view of what is and what is not. Kasturi & Sons, the publisher of The Hindu newspaper of 140 years, seemed to have made this clear last year. In an email circulated among employees in May 2017, company CEO Rajeev C Lochan spoke about Vision 2020 for the company. The goal is to revive the business to keep up with the times.
Print News is a shadow of its former self, and Musk and Sons, which publishes Business Line, Frontline and Sportstar, along with The Hindu, are no exception. The company’s net profit for the financial year ended March 2017 was Rs 50.8 crore (3 7.3 million), down from almost Rs 10 crore (4 1.4 million) a year ago. Revenue growth was also Rs 1,198.47 crore ($ 180.1 million) compared to Rs 1,186.75 crore (8 178.3 million) last year.
The project is of greater importance to the new printing press in Bangalore, the upgrade of their Hyderabad press, the re-design of their digital platforms and the understanding of the pulse of the readers.
This is not a happy story about the icon rediscovering its mojo. This is a grim, complicated story about an industry-leader. The reality of cut-throat changes and the need for reassessment of long-term values and principles. It is a matter of crystal clear vision. It also means picking up the pink-tinted glasses and seeing the most bizarre truths, no matter how positive it is.
Musk and Sons came to this.
On July 2, an email was received from Lochon to company staff. Of those, Lochan said the first quarter of 2018 was the most challenging of the years. Print advertising revenue “declined at double-digit rates”. This is a concern for The Hindu, whose print advertising revenues are a large part of its total revenues.
This is not the first such letter. In the past year, Lochan has sent four emails to staff, all lamenting the decline in print advertising revenue. The goods and services tax, demonetization, the introduction of the Real Estate Regulation Act (RERA) and the change in vehicle emission standards were also cited as factors.
The truth is, however, that this is not a new phenomenon. It all started in 2008, when the Times of India (TOI) launched its Chennai edition. According to a senior journalist from Chennai, who did not want to be named, TOI has aggressively reduced The Hindu on both ad rates and newspaper prices. Today, it has a circulation comparable to The Hindu, at the same time generating more advertising revenue. Hindu soldiers have been around since then, but now it feels a pinch.
In the same email that talked about declining advertising revenues, Lohan asked employees to come up with solutions to save costs. “Please review all costs (like when you are at home when emphasizing income) and find ways to reduce or eliminate them,” he said, adding an email address where employees can send their suggestions.
But this does not always solve the problem. According to a senior former employee who asked not to be named, The Hindu’s primary problem stems from overwork. Its payrolls are bloated. Now, you want to trim it.
There is a hiring freeze on editorial staff, with many long-term employees naked to pursue voluntary retirement plans. One company employee, who did not want to be identified, said 550 people were allowed into the editorial and administrative departments. Rajiv Lochan and The Hindu editor-in-chief Mukund Padmanabhan reached out to Ken for comment but did not respond.