The Times of India group has launched a subscription product ET Prime, which it is positioning as a “members-only business storytelling platform.” The positioning, in terms of focusing on “members” instead of “subscribers” is an important one here, since it allows the platform to provide additional services, including members-only access to events, and “Great conversations among an elite community of opinion leaders “, and an opportunity to become a contributor”. The service is priced at Rs 2499 for a year, and Rs 799 for 3 months, with a 15 day free trial: between Rs 208.25-266.33 per month. What’s a bit odd is that even the “Welcome to ET Prime” post is behind a paywall. Facepalm.

This is the Times of India group’s second foray into a niche/subscription product in recent times, with the first being Times Crest, launched as a weekend newspaper in 2009, and shuttered in 2013. Anant Rangaswami had raised some questions about Crest then.

The initiative has 21 people on board, led by Editor Shishir Prasad, and Associate Editor Tanmoy Goswami, and its areas of focus include Consumer Markets, Media and Communications, Corporate Governance, Economy and Policy, Fintech and BFSI, and Pharma and Healthcare. In terms of a subscriptions business, ET Prime would compete with The Ken, which is largely backed by execs from the Internet industry, and reports on technology and healthcare; I noticed a potential dig at The Ken in the description for ET Prime, where it says that “We are biased towards depth, not necessarily length, in our storytelling.”

In comparison with ET Prime, The Ken is priced at Rs 2750 for the year (Rs 229.16 per month) ($108 for international readers) and Rs 1500 ($35 for international readers) for the quarter (Rs 500 per month), with no free trial. Thus, ET Prime is almost 9.1% cheaper for the year, and as much as 47% cheaper for the quarter. The Ken, which is largely “inspired” by the model chosen by The Information, does one story a day, while ET Prime doesn’t specify a limit. ET Prime, however, does have a substantially broader remit, in terms of sectors of coverage, and thus may lack the sectoral focus, in comparison.

Another subscription product in the tech/investment space is News Corp owned VCCircle, which is priced at Rs 3995 per year (Rs 332.91 per month), and also offers bundling with the Wall Street Journal and Magzter, along with longer term subscription plans (of up to 5 years). Newspaper Business Standard offers a subscription product at Rs 1999 per year (Rs 166.58 per month), along with a free WSJ subscription.

The range, based on this sample, is between Rs 166.58 to Rs 332.91 per month, for annual subscription charges for business publications.

MediaNama’s Take

The differences between Crest and ET Prime are worth noting:

  • Crest was primarily a print publication, and came with added newsprint costs, while Prime doesn’t have those overheads. Thus viability is perhaps more likely here for the Times of India group, than in case of Crest. There’s an indication that subscription online can work, as indicated by VCCircle, The Ken and Business Standard.
  • Prime appears to be primarily a replacement for magazines, whereas Crest was positioned as a mix of news and feature content; given the pace of the news cycle newspapers are often carrying yesterdays news. News is a commodity, and readers are likely to see more value in analysis, perspective and news, than in quick updates.
  • Crest targeted a general audience, which may not be willing to pay for news online, as compared to a business audience for ET Prime, that, in an environment of an abundance of news, is still likely to pay for sharper perspective (albeit, not for verbosity).
  • Monetisation online is easier for Prime than it was for Crest, because the payments ecosystem has evolved significantly over the last 5 years. ET Prime uses the PayU gateway, and integrates most current payment options, including UPI and wallets, though not the Paytm wallet.

Remember that most of these subscription products are essentially replacements for magazines: instead of a packaged product being delivered every month (or weekend or fortnight), it’s a few stories every day. What will be worth watching is how this works with ET’s events business: ET now does several telecom and fintech/BSFI events each year, and it’s likely that that is going to be a key business model going forward for all publications. I’m exaggerating, but it almost appears that HT Media owned Mint does a BFSI event in Mumbai each week.

Online Advertising is no longer a reliable revenue source, the Times of India Group’s focus on building scale in order to compete with Google and Facebook (which corner a significant majority of online advertising in India), the way the audience as grown since Jio’s launch, with greater inventory leading to a decline in ad rates and the commodification of advertising, and the advent of ad blockers. At this point in time, the Times of India group has to try out subscription businesses, and make them viable, and develop and grow multiple revenue streams, to prepare for a potential decline in print advertising revenues.

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Disclosure: MediaNama covers the business of technology, and are areas overlap (and thus competition) with the publications mentioned in this article.