The coronavirus pandemic has hit hard newspaper circulations around the world – including in Bangladesh – although the demand for online news jumped up significantly.
With the enforcement of shutdown, lockdown and social distancing, print newspapers are not reaching all homes.
In many areas in Bangladesh, hawkers and outsiders are barred from entering the neighbourhood. In Dhaka, many hawkers have left for their village homes.
Accordingly, the national newspapers have all marked 50 to 70 percent drop in their circulations. As many as 10 newspapers have suspended publication – given that the risk and cost of operation could not justify continued printing.
This has left the media baffled and without any clear strategy on how the papers would survive if the pandemic worsens in April and peaks in May. The papers do not even know if there would be any sale at all – if things get worse, which it would.
With millions of people staying at their homes at a time filled with uneasiness and uncertainty the demand for digital news has gone up by up to 300 percent. This shows that the newspapers cannot just shut down entirely.
But to worsen the situation for the media, the pandemic also took away advertisement revenue.
In Bangladesh, all best news websites are backed by their newspaper and TV brands. The business model hovers around advertisement revenues in newspapers and TV channels that pays for the journalists.
The online-only news websites have not yet found a reliable business model in most parts of the world as online advertisement rates are dominated by how Google and Facebook fix the ad rates. Such rates depend on the number of clicks on your website – not on the quality and relevance of readership.
This parameter can be unfavourable for most Bangladeshi news websites which are mostly small fries when compared to a western website where online readership is very high compared to that of Bangladesh. The digital advertisement rates fixed by Google is already not very favourable for any media in the world – and it is more unfavourable for the Bangladesh media.
The print had been enjoying a premium advertisement domain in Bangladesh as advertisers feel they can directly promote their products to their customers through the print advertisements.
In case things get worse and people stop buying newspaper altogether, Bangladesh would be left with online-only journalism. Again the news websites will also continue to see drop in advertisements as there is no sale. There will be no sale until the pandemic is over.
In Bangladesh, the Editors Guild last week urged Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to declare an emergency incentive package for the mass media.
This is no different from what is happening in the UK. A Reuters report quoting the International Network of Street Papers said that 100 street papers in 35 countries are fighting for survival during the coronavirus crisis.
Meanwhile, a British media research group named Enders Analysis last week reported that newspapers struggling to survive during the coronavirus pandemic must be designated "essential service" status to protect them from financial collapse.
British media Independent quoting Enders Analysis said that print media, including hundreds of local newspapers, are of such importance to their readers that their closures could exacerbate the Covid-19 crisis and further isolate vulnerable households.
It called on the government to grant the industry the same protected status already given to healthcare, food chains and utility companies.
Doing so, the research says, should then unlock a package of measures to prevent closures – including emergency funding for journalism, guaranteed government advertising and a 100 percent holiday on business rates.