We regularly receive letters from readers complaining about full-page advertisements. We want more reading matter, they say. More recently, some readers have written in asking us why we have dropped the daily ‘Life, the Universe and Everything’ page, which carried articles about science and the environment.
The two issues may appear unrelated, but both stem from our editorial decisions about how much and what kind of journalism to carry. At HT, everything we do is aimed at giving readers more for less. Yet we do operate in an environment over which we do not have control. I hope readers get a glimpse of this as I answer the two questions.
First, we did announce this earlier, but I wish to re-iterate that we have not dropped the ‘Life, the Universe and Everything’ page. We have merely suspended it to make room for expanded coverage of the US presidential election. We will resume publishing the popular ‘Life…’ page a week or so after the US election result is announced.
Readers would be justified in asking why we had to sacrifice that page to make room for another.
Why not have both? The answer is straightforward: the price of newsprint — the paper used to print newspapers — has shot up by 60 per cent over the past 12 months (for reasons I won’t get into here). This has pushed up our costs.
Like most newspapers, we have had to make trade-offs. Yet despite the constraints, we constantly strive to expand, upgrade and fine-tune our offerings. This page is one example of that.
We hope it shows that we care deeply about what readers have to say not only about current events but also our coverage of them.
Second, as readers know, advertisements provide the bulk of revenue to Indian newspapers.
This is because Indian readers pay some of the lowest cover prices in the world — both in absolute terms and as a proportion of the cost of printing one newspaper.
Even so, HT Mumbai’s editorial-to-advertisement ratio is quite high. According to our marketing department’s estimates, HT had an edit-toad ratio of 79 per cent in September and 67 in the peak festival month of October. The estimates for Times of India, the market leader, were 60 per cent and 53 per cent and for DNA, the other main broadsheet in Mumbai, it was 80 per cent and 76 per cent, during those two months.
In my ideal newspaper, all or most of the revenue would come from the cover price — either through subscriptions or stand sales. The more readers are willing to pay, the less dependent we will be on advertisements and the more unmediated will be the relationship between journalist and reader. Is that a far-fetched goal? You tell me.