India's vibrant newspaper industry that reaches tens of millions of readers daily has been ravaged by declining advertising revenues due to a nationwide lockdown to fight the coronavirus, pushing leading titles to slash jobs and salaries.
Advertising revenues at some top dailies published by market leader The Times Group and publisher ABP Group have nosedived as businesses slash ad spending to conserve cash, senior executives said.
"Our print advertisement revenue, which is 80% to 85% of our total revenue, is almost zero post lockdown," said D. D. Purkayastha, chief executive of ABP, which publishes English-language daily The Telegraph and top Bengali language newspaper Anandabazar Patrika.
The Times of India, among the world's largest circulating English-language dailies, has shrunk to around 16 pages with supplements, compared with 40 plus pages previously, as ads from companies have stopped, said one Times employee.
The Times this week laid off some staff on its Sunday magazine team, a move two journalists told Reuters had sparked fears among staff about further job losses.
"There is tension and people are only praying. Who knows what will happen, but everybody is expecting pay cuts," said one Times Group business journalist, who declined to be named.
The Times Group did not respond to a request for comment.
India has extended a nationwide lockdown to May 3 to fight the coronavirus that has so far infected more than 12,000 and killed over 400 people. India has said it will allow opening up of only some industries after April 20.
The Hindustan Times, another leading publisher, on Thursday said it was moving between 5% and 15% of salaries to variable pay linked to the company's performance, an internal memo seen by Reuters said.
Indian companies last year spent nearly $9 billion on advertising, including about $2.6 billion on print media, according to Pitch Madison advertising report this year.
The Indian Newspaper Society, which represents around 1,000 publishers, has estimated the industry could lose $2 billion over the next six to seven months. It has sought federal support via a 50% increase in government advertisement rates.
The 88-year-old Indian Express this month also announced pay cuts of up to 30% for some staff and warned of more sacrifices to come. "If the situation continues this proposed reduction in salary will also not be enough for us to see through this crisis," an internal staff memo seen by Reuters said.
The Dainik Bhaskar group, whose Hindi newspaper has the largest circulation of any in India, said it had restructured pay for roughly 1,000 employees, or 12% of its workforce, by introducing a variable component dependent on the group's performance.
"This is to face the situation," said the group's human resources head Ravi Gupta.