Friday, September 12, 2008

The I-Pod Effect

So yet another Consumer Goods stalwart takes his bow.....from Print. A recent communique announced, the present Publisher of MINT is stepping down (to take on “ a new non-media challenge” outside). Glowing tributes have been paid to him for "one of the most unique media brands (created) in recent memory" and taking MINT and its number of sub-brands (Lounge, Campaign, ) to where they are today. Kudos most well deserved .

Marketing Success or Editorial Excellence

But, the purpose of this post is not to debate the Marketing success of MINT. We shall leave that discussion for another day . I do genuinely believe that MINT would be an excellent case-study of a new print product launch.

Here I would like to take off from a point made by Saurjyesh and also questioned by Sudhir (Syal) – as to “when do product innovations actually begin to kick-in?”. Sudhir has cited the example of the re-launched New Indian Express down South.

Opinion may be divided on the Business Model, Media Marketing, Pricing and Circulation strategy of MINT – but even the worst critic and most biased would agree that, MINT is, arguably, the best editorial product in the country today. The ExEd (now ED) of a “sister” ( nay, I meant - rival !!) publication had told me, in a private conversation, soon after its launch that , MINT is "the ultimate editor’s paper”. And, it has only gotten better since then.

When it started – it clearly differentiated itself not just in format (“compact”) and design (one of Garcia’s finest) - but in setting new standards ( and ethics ) of reportage and practically every element of content.

Along the way, MINT has added many of the “Interactive” features – which Saurjyesh, Sen and all those - from the relatively more developed and mature media markets – who commented on my earlier post ( on the future of print ) have talked about. This includes the LiveMint Blogs (click here to read)– again a first of sorts for an Indian (mainline or financial) paper.

So when did these truly fantastic product features start positively impacting the results in Commercial terms ( and, mind you – I am not talking of ‘break-even’ here !!) ?

Does the Winner take it all ?

I am slightly out of date with the numbers. But, from the little that I know of the Financial Papers space – there are 3 players (BS, HBL and Mint ) who are vying for the No 2 slot with roughly comparable figures. A 4th – the Chronicle – is threatening to storm the bastion. A 5th ( DNA Money) is spreading itself at the bottom in an altogether different segment of the market. And, a biggie ( FT – Network 18) is waiting in the wings to make a splash at an opportune moment.

Among these – although no one can discount the editorial quality of either BS or HBL) , in my opinion, MINT stands out in terms of salience. As someone put it beautifully – MINT is like the I-POD after an era of WALKMANs and Juke-boxes.

Even in a market like Mumbai, where (if I may hazard a guess at the risk of offending friends in the Circulation Dept of HT) I suspect, MINT’s circulation would be roughly the same as that of BS and HBL ( the latter 2, certainly BS, could infact be much higher), I believe it has a relatively greater editorial impact amongst high-end, influential readers. I would even go a step further and argue (inviting greater flak in the process) that on sheer ‘reader connect’ within the same target group it would score even higher than the newer broad-sheet mainline dailies (including the one published from the same stable).

Anecdotal or anecdotage

Of course – these are not based on any empirical research but just my own sense from anecdotal evidence. Be that as it may – the questions I have are:

-how much consumer pull did it manage to create immediately on its launch ? putting it a little differently, would MINT have reached its present level of circulation ( 120k ??) naturally without forced trials thru deep discounted subscriptions or ‘jodi’ offers ?
- would "old fashioned distribution" have worked for a product like this ?
- when will the cash registers start ringing ? would the advertisers see 'value' in a premium product offering like this and be willing to shell out an extra dollar ?
- how far and how fast this would translate into organic growth of circulation;
- would it ever be able to revert to the "traditional" sales and distribution sysyetem moving away from "door-to-door sale call" (PCC) and the "annual subscrition" model?
- how much premium would the consumer be willing to pay on the ‘cover price’ of the product ?
- can the present level of circulation be sustained at ‘full cover price’ and without offers ?

( well, well, I know – Cover Price is immaterial in today’s context. Haven’t we done that topic to death already in this blog. But, I’m asking this purely as an Index of Consumer preference)

Perhaps, we can try and answer some of these over the next few days. Would look forward to hearing from you – both 'insiders' and those who watched the birth of a ‘star’ from a distance (or even some like me who have seen it from a ‘distance within’).

Full Disclosure (in keeping with the MINT protocol) – This post was not influenced by the 'E-i-C 'of Mint giving this humble blog a pride of place among his favourites. It was, however, certainly inspired by the farewell accolades for RB.


Sudhir syal said...

Hi Sandip,

Great read...thoroughly enjoyed it.

However, I don't think the Mint is such a good example. HT has a fantastic distribution machinery - a strong brand and a good Marketing team - you also mentioned the deep discounts.

My point as with the IE example in Chennai - same distribution team / same price - much better paper. Effect on circulation - negligible. Therefore I think it would be fare to say that a great paper has to be backed with everything else to make it a complete winning package.

Sandip Ghose said...

Dear Sudhir,

Thanks so much for writing in. I cited MINT more as an example of product and editorial innovations. As my posers at the end of the post would indicate, the jury is still (and - to my mind, would be for a long time ) out on whether it can be considered a marketing and commercial success.

A closer parallel to the Chennai situation is probably what happened in Mumbai - post the HT and DNA launch. But, we'd keep that for some other day - 'coz it'd need a much more detailed analysis.

Meanwhile - you can, perhaps, enlighten us on what happened / is happening in the Chennai market after the Deccan Chronicle came in to challenge The Hindu hegemony and now that the mighty ToI has also entered the fray.

Look fwd to hearing from you,


Farhad said...

I couldn't agree more with Sandip ... Raju & Rajan have established a Fantastic Financial Newspaper and I am sure Rajan's departure will be missed by all his colleagues at Mint . Mint Truly is the slick & print equivalent of the Apple IPOD ... vis a vis innovation , editorial integrity , etc etc . However the pity is that the Indian Nespaper Scene is still more of a "Walkman" OR ET market vis a vis circulation & revenue .
But being an EX -Ht Alumni and a regular "ipod" user, Rajan's departure reminds me of a song that I still have on my IPOD - ANOTHER ONE BITES THE DUST :-) !!!

Farhad Wadia

Sen said...

One from the jury bench is back :)
Cannot agree more with Sandip as far as MINT is concerned.
I am one of those early adopters to switch fro ET, on the 3rd day itself.
Got quite addicted to it now!
As with any other "content" source, the "engagement value" is very important to me. In case of a business paper, at least for me, numbers per se, take a back-bench, whereas trends, analyses & knoweldege are priorities.

ET, at some point of time, became a stock-tracking journal for non=financial people like me.

I have found too many readers ignoring the headlines & flipping straight to the indices! And I am talking about 10 years back.

Therefore, with the plethora of index based numbers available freely on the net / cell, lately, ET lost it's edge, for me.

MINT really does very well to feed the hunger of mid-level, hardly-qualified managers like me, who are constantly seeking knowledge, to make up for their lack of the "I appendages".

It's not high handed, the language is, again, easy for people like us (we do form a large TG you see) and most important - the editors / columnists somehow come out as "good, honest people" who "enjoy discussing issues" with the reader.

That's a connect I find hard to severe!

If any of you remember the not-so-recent past of NDTV, when Dr. Roy was quite visible to the public, the stance was somewhat very similar to MINT's. Genuine concern, honest opinions, the right emotional quotients etc.

Media, on its own prerogative & thanks to the continuous numerical one-up-manship efforts, have lost "depth", significantly.

Frankly, as I told a few senior media honchos (who definitely scoffed called me names in their minds), it may actually be a good idea to have a consolidated news-editing corporation.

It will prepare all the content required by all the papers & fit them into individual "blanks", everyday.

These "filled up blanks" will reach the newspaper Brands, where the ad-guys will put in their loots, the brand-guys will stick on the masthead & other branding cues, the editor (if one still remains) will choose the article from the content-bank & print!

As there's hardly any difference between contents on mainline broadsheets (apart from The Hindu, I must admit), this makes tremendous business sense! Lower overheads, very environment friendly (as a matter of fact, most publishers will be able to offset their hidden guilt pangs for newsprint usage) & finally, will endow the Ad-Sales guys with ALL the glory!
After all, media is not because of the readers! It's because of the advertisers - indutrial or political, isn't it?

ssc said...

This is extremely interesting for me, and I think you've picked a niche area and are doing a great job. Keep it up and keep it focussed.

cab said...

Your blog's getting interesting sandip :-)

Samil said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Vinita Bhatia said...

Well I agree with the comment that Mint was like an iPod after an era of walkmans and jukeboxes. But the iPod has gone such transformation since its launch in terms of the memory availability, video capability, etc. Has Mint managed to do that? Or has it gotten caught in the trap of being the second runner and trying so hard to get to the top slot that it has been innovative not because of what the readers wanted but to keep pace with what the leaders of the pack were doing? It is my personal opinion that when any brand in any product line gets caught in the last instance, that is when it starts losing its credibility and allure. Somewhere this seems to have happened with Mint.
Of course, I must add that I am not so well attuned to the workings of the mainstream publications since I have been in the niche IT publishing business for long - actually too long as I am increasingly beginning to realise. So this might have offered me with a blinkered view of reader expectations and a publication's ability to grasp this effectively

THE BLOG-errr said...

Hi Sandip...
Quite a bunch of questions, at the end.
I loved the ipod - walkman comparison, probably the resounding rationale on why Mint is not seeing its true potential as fast as it should.
a. The 120K bug - Was having an enlightening evening on beers available in the country, when I bumped in to an old B school classmate, who was down in blore for her TVC shoot. And she still complained about the offline "spamming" on her office desk with Mint. But, at the same time one has met so many senior executives in love with the paper.
Probably the initial hurry to create visibility and recognition by forced free subscription needs to move in to 2nd gear now, where a MINT copy is a premium (not sending the free copies really disturb the ecosystem as much to show an immediate downward spiral on ad revenues? why not wait and watch whether the people who love it, retain the copy as well!)
Definitely an apple i-pod has to be sold at a price premium and obviously each SKU counts, something that has to be "bought" and is not available in exchange for your visiting card (automobiles launching luxury cars in fixed nos.)
b. Ringing cash registers: Ahh media sales, the ever complex strategies that go into it from the rigor that rate cards and pricing evoke (pls excuse the youth for audacity at times!); from a differentiated sales team, to an integrated and to another shot at a unique team of mint sellers. Hopefully, people back home already realize the Q+ argument, the audience that we have; unfortunately what was missing was the conviction that such arguments are not won by science or maths of x-thousands of our readers own blackberry's, No Sireee; they are won by testimonials and heavyweight names (which MINT always had);Mr. XYZ, CEO , MNC India " I love mint coz," (an unofficial quote, or a genuine sign of product appreciation). Managing agencies then is just an art for so many well-ground and experienced media sellers alongwith a strong support on what we can call trade marketing?!
As far as rate cards go...
An ipod, irrespective of the real cost of production per unit, will always be a $ 400 apple and never a $30 walkman;It's only as beautiful as it is priced (with due respect to an apple).
c. Organic circulation growth and premium pricing are questions that can be answered only after witnessing the real quotient of reader loyalty : the subscription bought at the end of the "free"/sampling period.
Having said that, traveling around and meeting so many people as a MINT executive has certainly given confidence, that the niche created now needs to be monetized.
Apples to apples... :)

Sandip Ghose said...

hi sam,

liked your quip on the 5 Cs of Circulation. that's original - quickly apply for a copyright on it. how are the renewals of MINT happening ? in Delhi i see a 'jodi' price mentioned on HT. what percent do you think would be the 'jodi's. re: the pre-sell, I take your point, but much of it ("without revealing the brand name" ) was done using the WSJ Equity. at least that's how i had sold them and had heard lot of others do it as well. that's not to take away any of the credit for a tremendous job done by you and your young team.

the questions I asked tho' were different - they relate more to the longer-term rather than the past / current scenario.

i'm not sure how far the comparison with the Economist is valid. magazines, as we all know, follow a different sales model. but, we'll keep that for another blog.

did Mint get an IRS number ? Don't think it's gone to ABC yet, has it ?


Samil said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
saurjyesh said...

MINT is a great product but a great magazine product with features that is to be read at leisure. Somehow I think of a Business Newspaper as something that needs to add value to my wallet which sadly MINT does not manage to do as well. what it does is contribute to my knowledge for a better 'AANTEL' ( non bongs ca ask the bongs) discussions over a drink. I really don't know of anyone who is a subscriber of ONLY MINT. Essentially at best MINT is a second Biz newspaper. As a media planner why should I pay marketing Dollars to reach an audience who I am anyways reaching through ET/TOI/HT and TV18? Case in point -I am planning a media campaign where I am targeting consumers of Business media and MINT has not even been suggested by my agency.

Snigdha Sengupta said...

Hi Sandip,
Nice piece. Mint is a good product but it is still not the antidote it was supposed to be to ET. Agree that it is more a magazine like product than a newspaper. Which is actually alright, except that it has a long way to go in terms of becoming a good magazine. That differentiation, vis.a.vis an ET, i vital to Mint claiming a clear leadership position in the market. Else it will always play second fiddle to ET, much like every other 'second' paper in the market today.

Sen said...

Agree with Samil's experience with Mint's launch.

Though I have commented earlier, on this same post, with kudos, I do see some logic in Vinita's words too.

MINT "was" a very great start & definitely a round, juicy green apple compared to the dented & washed out Himachal variety!

However, over a period of time MINT has digressed from it's opening stance, tried to add "snacky" items & moved towards a magazine, as Saurjyesh has rightly pointed out.

(Incidentally, I had to check & re-check his name while typing! a simple interchange of the two vowels following S would have had a disastrous effect)

Going back to MINT again, well, the IRS & ABCs, for whatever they are worth, will take a bit longer to push its case. More so when the media bodies themselves are doing musical chairs over the past year or so. That may explain why Saurjyesh's (Ooh!) media planner overlooked it, completely.

But that apart, MINT is still as fresh, innovative & good as the POLO. Just the hole requires to be plugged, soon.