All posts in the Print category

Famers, and The Urban Indian

Published February 2, 2016 by vishalvkale

The past few months {and more} have seen a whirlwind of news regarding great moves by the NaMo Government; highlighting a series of developments and laudable initiatives by this Government by the Media as well as the Bhakt Brigade on Social Media. That is indeed good; a positive environment engenders a powerful impetus towards growth, and is a significant factor. Positivity engenders growth and development, problem resolution in a manner negativity can never do.
In all this euphoria and positivity, one factor lies ignored; the status of the Agriculture Sector. This article isn’t about The NaMo Government, but about our {Urban India’s} response – or lack of it – regarding the Agriculture Sector, about how it has taken the back seat, and about how we just don’t respond, or are not even aware of, the status of this sector, its issues and the problems that plague it. While news regarding Farmer Suicides reaches us due to the sensationality factor, the real issues and problems this sector faces never reach us. And for that, we the people are to blame.
Rising Farmer Distress in some parts of India, for example in Maharashtra is but one aspect of this; the aspect of drought that has hit large tracts of India is another and potentially more troublesome and serious a factor to hit us. Add to this the lack of serious attention to the myriad problems that inflict the agricultural scenario, like Seeds for example, or unbalanced fertilization to take another pertinent and current example.
And yet, despite the scale of these problems, neither the mainstream Media or the larger Social Media is focussed on these factors; the large number of news articles, updates etc are built around digitisation moves of the current Government, Smart Cities, Bullet Trains, Railway Modernisation, Make In India, Digital India, FDI and Economic Growth, Basic Office Hygeine steps by the NaMo Government, Aggression {long-needed} towards the needs of the Armed Forces etc.
Not one of the points listed above is unimportant; not one is without value. Each step truly laudable in its own right, and very welcome. Credit where credit is due; fact is fact. But critically and interestingly, Crop Insurance apart, no news in relation to the Agriculture Sector has made it to Social Media, or to the News that I am aware of – not to the tune of the others, those I mentioned above. That means either the Government has done nothing; which is highly debatable – given that there is a ministry devoted to this; or that we aren’t aware of it- which is far more likely.
The state of affairs in Indian Agriculture is there for all to see, and requires no data to prove it. The shocking evidence of your eyes should shake anyone from stem to stern, with rampant poverty, and abject conditions the moment you move into the Rural parts of India. And yet, we Urban Indians continue to bask in the glory of moves and steps that largely benefit Urban India; I refer to Smart Cities, Make In India and Bullet Trains etc. Even the praise of Digitisation in Social Media hovers around facilities for Urban Indians! Why doesn’t the status of the Farming Community in India reach the consciousness of us Urban Indians?
The news that is coming out is disturbing, to say the least; The Maharashtra government has declared a “drought-like condition” in 14,708 of the state’s 43,000 villages. This means the drought covers 34% of the state, as per a Times of India Report. Another Hindustan Times report states As of Nov-end, nine of India’s 29 states had officially declared a drought, and 302 of the 640 districts are living in drought-like conditions.  That is approximately 50% of India. Another report from October categorically mentions : For India to grow at 8%, agriculture must grow at least 4%. Yet, the farm sector has barely crawled at 1.9% in the first quarter (April-June) this year. It could get worse when the effects of a widespread drought become visible in the next few months.
The same report goes on : Between April 2014 and February 2015, the value of India’s farm exports dropped nearly 3%, as prices in global commodity markets fell. In August this year, tractor sales were down 23%. Rural wages rose at a slower 4.6% pace in a 12-month period ending in June, compared to a 12% rise in the same period a year ago.; earlier, the same report made this point : Alarmingly, a rural distress — marked by slowing wages, poor incomes and lower profits from farming — now looks getting entrenched.

{Image Credit : Hindustan Times, article linked in references}

Another Hindustan Times article strips the Urban Indian naked in this blunt statement, which I fully endorse : Obsessed with the latest, hyper-emotional social media trend, India’s people and mass media are all but oblivious to Bharat’s emergency situation. The only national newspaper that has consistently followed collapsing farms and failing rains is Mint. As of last week, nine of India’s 29 states had officially declared a drought, and 302 of the 640 districts are living in drought-like conditions. If you ask why none of this is on India’s primetime television shows or splashed on front pages, I will only say that the media, in general, are not interested and neither, dear reader, are we.Sad, but a completely factual indictment of the status of Social Media.
The same report had made this point : The data indicate the essentially dead-end nature of Bharat’s jobs and realities and a worsening farm economy, which grew only 0.2% last year. If it grows that much this year, we should be lucky. The under-reported and largely ignored farm crisis has been made greatly worse and more urgent by two years of scanty rain. Fact upon relentless fact can be piled up to build the case of neglect by we the people in our consciousness…
Going further, a Reuters report goes even further, with facts : Last month, India made its first purchases of corn in 16 years. It has also been increasing purchases of other products, such as lentils and oilmeals, as production falls short. Wheat and sugar stocks, while sufficient in warehouses now, are depleting fast, leading some traders to predict the need for imports next year. The same report also has this stunning statement from an analyst : “There’s a complete collapse of Indian agriculture, and that’s because of the callous neglect by the government,” said Devinder Sharma, an independent food and trade policy analyst.
In our Euphoria about the various Urban developments, somewhere along the line, the hands that feed us, the hands we owe everything to – the farming community in India, lie forgotten. This does not reach the awareness of Social Media, which is busy extolling the virtues of Urban Development and the various and admittedly excellent steps undertaken by this Government in its tenure so far. The reality of the farming scene is  not even on the radar of Urban India.
Furthermore, the other side of the story lies forgotten. I had noted categorically in my budget analysis last year, and I quote : And then, you expect the states to implement what is in essence a centrally thought plan. While the plan to devolve to states is laudable, there is a dire need to pull up recalcitrant state governments.{}
Note this article from The Indian Express, which corroborates and confirms my reading of the state of affairs:  “During the UPA regime, the Centre contributed 90% for the initiative while the state pitched in with another 10%. But following the Narendra Modi government’s decision to slash central assistance for most centrally sponsored schemes from April 1, 2015, the Centre’s share has gone down to 60%. A condition that this reduced share will be released only after states release the matching grant was also imposed. Given the fund squeeze in the state, officials admitted that funds earmarked for the scheme in 2015-16 have not been released to districts so far. The scheme is applicable in 33 out of the 36 districts in the state. With funding support drying up, it has now come to light that the societies have tapped into the unutilised development funds marked in 2014-15 for the farmer training initiative for meeting salaries of the staff. {Jan 7, 2016}
Farmers produce the food we eat; this is a fact. Their troubles should be on the forefront of the nations’ priorities; alongwith the needs of the Armed Forces. The proofs and reality given above bear mute testimony to two realities : one is the lack of awareness and churlish attitude of Urban India towards the farmers and rural India; and the other reality being the gap highlighted by the Indian Express article on the change in the method of operation of UPA vis-a-vis NDA, which is exactly what I had foretold long back. I am sure the Government will learn and take corrective measures {Note article from reuters}; question is – will we, the people, wake up and understand that it is the Rural India that requires our helping hand? That extolling Urban Developments alone does not suffice? Will the Urban Indian wake up? 

References : 

Book Review : The Indian Media Business – 4th Edition

Published August 8, 2015 by vishalvkale

The Indian Media Business 4th Edition  
ByVanita Kohli  Khandekar
This is the updated 4thedition of the Book “The Indian Media Business”; if you are a deep student of Indian Business / Indian Media, then don’t miss this updated edition; but if you have read the 3rd edition, and are not too serious about Business in India as a student or analyst, then you can give this a pass. This edition has many changes to it that warrants its listing as a separate book almost; these flesh out the previous material, and make for an interesting and absorbing read. There is a new introductory chapter in the beginning of the book, as well as an analytical section in each chapter, updated data and more relevant graphics, more relevant and updated regulations, changes and history, making it overall a far superior effort to the previous one
This is a short, 3-4 page analysis of the trends in Indian Media, taking a look at investment, profitability, fragmentation, consumer trends and segmentation; and is replete with excellent supportive data on reach, growth in media, time spent, revenues, investment, Media Groups etc
·                   The constant comparison {or, to be more precise, examples of  and from} with the developed markets, throughout the book, seems premature and out of place for the Indian scenario. This is a significant downside of the book – although it does give interesting insights of the international scene. Since this concerns Media – differences in Economic Status, Culture, Stage Of Development of the Industry renders any comparative look irrelevant.
·                   The notation – the consistent western notations make no sense, as we are attuned to thinking in terms of Lakh and Crore; thus, notations in Million and Billion are, frankly, useless, and are a major strain os you struggle to compare with other numbers you have read, or place it in perspective with Indian Data. This is a major problem throughout the book.
·                   The value-judgement on segmentation along linguistic or cultural lines has been treated, in my opinion, in a dismissive fashion – when the reality could just as well be that this is what is actually firming cultural ties, preventing domination of one tongue, leading to deepening democracy and prevention of fissiparous tendencies In its own small way
PRINT : {The Indian Print Industries Death-Defying Growth will continue for some some}
The analysis on print is excellent, the objections notwithstanding; with a superb presentation of why Print is in no danger, and will continue strong in India. It also identifies the threat of corruption of content very accurately in a separate segment, which is top-class, alongwith the presented linkage to advertising revenues. It presents a complete overview of the entire print scenario spanning magazines as well as dailies, regulations, metrics, valuations, changing readership trends etc
·                   Again, Language Newspapers and Media has not got the attention it deserves; this book is largely focused on the English Media, although around 90% of the material is generic and applicable to Print in general, and extensive data for even language media has been presented. That said, the focus in terms of analysis, space in the book and interpretation is lacking
·                   To be fair, the author has herself identified this with an exemplary case study on Hindi Newspapers, with some tough questions, like the over-emphasis by advertisers on the English Media – leading to the question, are brands reaching the right consumers? More research is needed-  but there, we are absent in both universities and companies…
TELEVISION : {The Indian Television Market is finally coming into its own}
One of the best chapters of the book – exhaustive, detailed, comprehensive and spectacular in content as well as analysis.
·                   Virtually flawless in its entirety, with an excellent coverage of issues , though it does tend to, yet again, miss the chance of analyzing the rise of regional channels fully, as well as advertising revenues by language
·                   The preference, in my humble opinion, of pay revenues begets the question – is this model workable in India? Can all Indians pay high fees? What about the regulation? The identified problem of cartelization in the book advocates a more measured response, and that regulated pricing is the only way forward; in a limited competition, the risk of rising prices cannot be negated.
·                   Further, the comparison with developed markets is again premature, as the paying power of consumers is much lesser in India; the elitist focus on pay models, or the opinion on exclusive broadcast rights of national events comes across as being pro-Corporate; the Indian consumer cannot afford to pay for access that the focus on pay or exclusivity will inevitably bring
FILMS : {In its 100th year, Indian Cinema look young, fit, and with it}
An excellent chapter, which identifies trends and developments that will surprise the reader; this is a chapter that is riveting and well presented, with several deep learnings and take-aways
·                   Again the comparison with Developed Markets! How can you compare ticket prices across India and the USA? What about the difference in purchasing power?Are we reaching all audiences? Can the poor afford your multiplexes? The pay models? Don’t they have a right to fun?What about developing alternative models for them, and not just in films? Cant some out-of-the-box thinking create a market out of that?
·                   “underworld money – industry is absolutely clean” : on what basis? No proof presented…
·                   The fragmentation of the market between NRI preferences and Resident Indian Preferences, local and regional preference variation elevates this chapter to the stuff of legend, with proof; as is the divide between A and B class cities in India.
MUSIC : {The music industry best symbolizes the possibilities and perils of digital}
The story of how an industry can adjust, revive and ride to glory, overcoming all converting challenges into opportunities… The story of music is, in the words of the author herself, is  “that digital can really trouble you, disrupt your business and make life miserable for you, but if you can harness it, it can still deliver”. That about sums it up; all other industries can learn from this excellent chapter! The big surprise of the chapter is the fact that of the Music Industry’s  Rs. 1060 Crore sales  in 2012, 60% came from new formats or non-physical sales.
·                   A flawless in its entirety, I could not find anything out of place in this entire chapter; which is replete with facts, is free from any assumptions unlike the previous ones…
RADIO : {The Radio business really needs to move on}
Yet another thought-provoking chapter, this goes deep into the Radio mess, looking at all issues relating to the current mess, from license fees to roll-out to content to localization in a very well-crafted chapter. The main take-away from the chapter is a superb detailed analysis of the Licensing norms and process, and a small examination of how decision paralysis is impacting the industry and spectrum both. That said, this chapter could have been better :
·                   Focus on content, especially localized content, could have been greater; while it is true that localization has, for the first time in the book,  got adequate space, the focus in not on the nature, language, content of the programmes; that could have been attempted. Content is the product – not radio; further, how will radio fare against Saavn, Hungama etc? How can FM differentiate and make itself more relevant? This I missed in the chapter
·                   A small notation : radio, with its relative ease of setting up, needs regulation more than most, imho : due to security considerations primarily, I don’t think this can be argued with
DIGITAL : { Stop, take a breath, Digital. Think about where you are headed }
A fantastic and deep look at the current status of digital and telecom, and emphasizes the felt need for a re-look, a re-think and the requirement of a sense of direction. The prologue successfully tackles the belief that Digital is a panacea in a sharp 5-6 page critical analysis, proving that it is anything but a panacea and a utopian ideal, using data, facts and figures to make its point. This one is a genuine surprise in some parts. It deals with convergence, fragmentation, ROI, Scale, Consolidation in a few behemoths, that no one is trying to grow the medium strategically and that there exist huge errors in companies in this field,
·                   I will just paraphrase the author here for emphasis : I cannot put it better. “This chapter then is an attempt to create a structure around all the forms of media emerging as a result of the affairs and marriages between old and new formats, between technology and content, between the medium and the message. It collapses the two old chapters on Internet and Telecom into one overarching one”. Top stuff- convergence is the future!
OUT-OF-HOME { The similarities between out of home media and cable TV are startling } & EVENTS { Everything is an event }
The last two chapters deal with the underdogs in media – out of home, and events. These two are deeply interesting, as for the first time, adequate attention has been paid to these two step-daughters of Media, given their historical treatment by us not from the Media trade at least. As in the rest of the chapters, everything from valuation, regulation, how the business works, history to current issues and major players to growth challenges have been covered in detail, making for a most absorbing read! The only miss is that the out-of-home completely ignores {apart from one mention in a table} Wall-Paintings, which were the mainstay in rural India; one can still spot these wall-paintings.
The book is a one-of-a-kind, placing in one place regulations, business internal, valuations, metrics, history, operation, challenges, issues, current operational methods,  – making it a top-notch resource if you want to have a overall understanding of the Indian Media business, as well as a starting point for deep studies. Reading this gives one a comprehensive idea of the trade in at least the basics. A must read for everyone in  Marketing, to be honest.
The book is good at tracing the genesis on each industry right to its beginnings, studying the interplay of market forces and regulations, also interventions, that lead to the current state of affairs – giving deep insights into both market forces as well as the good side of regulation & the perils of over-regulation. It identifies burning issues like Consolidation, content corruption, regulatory hurdles while also going deep into the genesis of some of these issues, while also examining how these industries actually operate, making this book a unique resource, and easily one of the best Business Books I have read.