Learning from the death of the Times of India Crest edition

These are the questions that should be asked - and then we'll have an answer very different from 'it didn't work'. There's a wealth of information available in stories of failure, perhaps more valuable than the stories of success.

Anant Rangaswami July 18, 2013 10:22:02 IST
Learning from the death of the Times of India Crest edition

When a media product dies, there is little we do to understand why it happened. The most common diagnosis is, 'it didn't work'.

What didn't work? Did the content not work? Did the packaging not work? Was the pricing right? Was the circulation/distribution up to the mark? Was the marketing strategy well thought-through? Was there a marketing strategy in place? Was the sales team aligned to the product?

These are the questions that should be asked - and then we'll have an answer very different from 'it didn't work'. There's a wealth of information available in stories of failure, perhaps more valuable than the stories of success.

For anyone in the media business, especially in the niche, premium or special interest media business, the answers to 'what went wrong with the Times of India Crest' would be a gold mine.Sadly, it is unlikely we ever have the answers - as The Times of India will not share them (should they have them).

Learning from the death of the Times of India Crest edition

A screengrab of the Crest ePaper

Immediately after the news that the last issue of Times of India Crest would be this week found mention on Twitter, timelines were flooded with reasons being attributed to the failure and interpretations of the impact.

The news of Crest's demise was being immediately interpreted as the harbinger of the death of long-form journalism, the death of broadsheet as a format, and so on - with no evidence to support any of the conclusions.

There are other print products which rely on long-form journalism and seem to be doing well - Caravan and Open come to mind. The large majority of newspapers in India are broadsheets, so that argument doesn't work as well.

So what went wrong? I'll try and list the possible causes:

* There was little or no marketing of the title. The little that existed was for a short period immediately preceding and following the launch. This, too, was fairly low-decibel. This is a marked departure from the high-decibel launches other products from the BCCL stable receive.

* The launch price of just Rs.6, coupled with the 40 page issue we saw during the launch phase caused the paper to be born making losses. A higher cover price would have seen lower losses (and lower circulation too, perhaps), and the title would have been healthier

* The overall design looked dated when compared to contemporary print products that sophisticated readers were exposed to on a daily basis

* Sales teams found it difficult to sell the quality of their readers as opposed to the quantity of their readers. This, to my mind, was one of the most important reasons for the failure.

* The sense one got was that the paper was (journalist-wise) understaffed

* As the paper's pagination shrank, the width of subjects and stories covered shrank as well, seriously diluting the richness available to the reader in the early months. A look at the Crest's Facebook page will show how, even with the shrinking, the width on offer was still compelling.

* There was no attempt, in the almost four year life of the paper, to make any changes or course corrections

Overall, one gets the feeling that, prior to launch, fundamental questions weren't asked and answered. In essence, there was no vision for the paper, no raison d'tre.

Were these questions asked?

* Why are we launching the Crest?

* Who is the core target audience

* How does the Crest fit in to the entire stable?

* How does it add to the stable?

* How will it be monetized?

* Which segment of the market is it targeting?

* Who are the competitors in this segment?

* How is the segment doing? Is it growing? Is it shrinking? Is it flat?

* How is this segment doing from a revenue point of view?

* Is there a need to physically print the paper, rather than have a digital-only version?

Even if the paper was launched in a hurry (which it was), there has been no attempt to try and understand how the paper was doing, which aspects of it were doing well and which aspects were causes for concern.

When it 'wasn't working', no one asked 'why isn't it working'?

That's the problem. So before writing off long-form journalism and broadsheets, think of The Times of India Crest's failure as one caused by a litany of mistakes, some of them most basic and fundamental.

This article first appeared in the weekly Firstpost-Storyboard digital paper. For a free download of the paper, click here

Disclaimer: The Times of India Crest edition belongs to Bennet, Coleman & Co, which competes with Network 18

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