Printing Press went jobless; Print media takes the biggest setback during COVID crises

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Image Courtesy: Reuters

Maharashtra’s newspaper industry has suffered irrecoverable losses during the lockdown, which is spinning under the impact of circulation and advertising both tumbling swiftly during the lockdown. Mythoi and mistrust about coronavirus spreading through newspapers have only added to the problem.

Print media shut their print editions and the printing press went out of order. There are many small to big newspapers asking their staff to leave. The Times of India has reduced staff with at least three employees of Times Life, its Sunday supplement, including two editors and a designer, having been verbally asked to leave. Times Life, initially a four-page supplement has been reduced to one page.

Afternoon Despatch and Courier closed its print edition and somehow resumed online publication but financial crunch has forced it to close the online edition too by asking all its staff to quit. The Indian Express and The Business Standard and many other regional publications have announced pay cuts up to 50 per cent in internal emails.

 The Hindustan Times has made changes to the salary component of its employees by diverting a percentage of fixed pay to the variable component, which is linked to the company’s performance. Among the regional troupes, the Pune-based Sakal Media Group last month asked 15 employees from the editorial team of its Sakal Times to leave.

Hamara Mahanagar, a Hindi newspaper published from Mumbai, has shut down three editions — from Mumbai, Pune and Nashik. Similarly, Free Press Journal shut its Sunday special edition, reduced their print and also staff, the paper is running with freelancers.

English daily Star of Mysore, a 43-year-old evening publisher published from Mysore, has stopped publishing since 13 April. The newspaper industry had suffered from loss of circulation in Mumbai, but, by and large, across the rest of the country. The Covid-19 crisis has been so sudden and severe that it forced the Indian Newspaper industry to shrink.

After eight months of long lockdown, Mumbai gave way to a steady re-opening, many people resumed to work with minimum wages but again lockdown was announced to break the chain and they hit the spine of the business.

But there is no hope in industry people. The Indian economy came to a virtual halt on 25 March when the government announced its decision to implement a nationwide lockdown to stop the spread of Covid-19 and again when it continued in April 2021. Although the lockdown has impacted businesses across the board, the print media, cinema and live entertainment industry are hit especially hard.

Afternoon Voice spoke to some Mumbai-based printing press factories to know how they are dealing with the lockdown crises, here is what they had to say.

Abhishek Brid, owner of Rajesh Printouch in Mumbai said, “Printing press is a labour-intensive business and due to COVID-19 lockdown the industry has come to standstill. Our industry hasn’t overcome the previous lockdown and yet again the state government has announced new restrictions to curb. According to the government SOP, only essential workers can travel by public transport, but what about us? How our labour will travel? The lockdown crises have been so sudden and severe that it forced printing press media to shrink.”

“Earlier we used to get several orders from the Pharma companies and doctors to print their pamphlet and cards but due to labour shortage (As they cannot travel) the business has shut, and now everything is available online starting from visiting card to the pamphlet. So, the condition is quite deplorable and frustrating, I am not even able to pay to my workers as there’s no income”, added Brid.

“In the printing press, most of the people are belong to a middle-class family and everyone cannot afford to own a vehicle. In my factory, most of the labourers are reside in Virar, Dombivali and Vashi areas. It’s quite tough for them to travel from roadways. I am not saying that the government should allow it fully but at least they can give permission to 25 per cent of the staff. Around 60-70 per cent of the industry are suffering loss due to lockdown and restriction. The government should think once and provide some relief measures to us, said Shridhar Kurtadkar, owner of Shri Printers & Sudhir Book Binder in Byculla.

Owner of Jamali printers press, Zulfikar Kutbuddin Bhopalwala told Afternoon Voice, “The printing industry has been suffering huge losses in a backdrop of COVID 19 lockdown and after seeing the current scenario there is no hope in industry people. Due to lock down the 70% of offices are shut and people are working from home which has affected the business to a great extent. Secondly, the digital media has taken all the market and due to this the print media is either on the decline or showing stunted gains.” 

Mahesh Naik owner of Mauli Printing, “Earlier the govt has said that if you have taken the permission from Maharashtra industrial development corporation (MIDC) to run the factory then you don’t have to ask them again. But now the govt is not allowing our workers to travel by the public transport. One day the govt allows and the very next they’ll not restrict them to travel on the train. The government itself is not cleared with its SOPs. The government should come with up some solution or relief measure for the printing industry.”

The Indian newspaper industry is in loss of Rs 4,000-5,000 crore in just March and April due to the lockdown. The media and entertainment sector’s annual revenue is likely to decline by 16% in the financial year 2020-2021. Diminishing advertising revenues and circulation of print copies have led major media houses to shut or scale down operations that were non-profitable further restructuring the organization. A major impact of this was seen on print publications.

The Economic Times Hindi and Sandhya Times have stopped publishing their Delhi editions while Maharashtra Times in Marathi has shut down its three editions — Kolhapur, Jalgaon and Ahmednagar.

The TV Today Network announced ceased operations and transmission of Delhi Aaj Tak from 30 June 2020 onwards. The group may also close down all its niche print products, including Harper’s Bazaar, Cosmopolitan magazines, and the Mail Today newspaper.

Mint Lounge has disengaged a couple of regular columnists, and senior journalists Priya Ramani and Natasha Badhwar have been asked to leave. Dainik Bhaskar has temporarily closed its 4-page pullouts and merged the Gurugram and Faridabad news in its Delhi edition. Amar Ujala’s Gurgaon and Faridabad editions have also been merged.

The Telegraph in English shut down its Jamshedpur, Ranchi, and Guwahati editions from 1 June 2020. The ABP (Anandabazar Patrika) Group, which also owns The Telegraph and Fortune India, sent an internal email announcing vacating its rented offices in Delhi, Bengaluru, Noida, Chennai, and Hyderabad. The ABP Group shut down its Infocomm department and is most likely to close the iconic Bengali magazines — Sananda and Desh.

ABP also shut all offices other than Kolkata as a large number of employees have been sacked, and the rest are working from home. Network18 has announced the shutdown of its lifestyle channel FYI TV18 from 8 July, while Firstpost has shut its business desk. Forbes India suspended print operations beginning its issue dated 27 March. Bloomberg-Quint announced shutting down its television division. The move leads to 100 people losing their jobs.