The pandemic and the economic slump may have given the Times group the cloud cover to pull the trigger on Mumbai Mirror, but the tabloid’s fate was probably decided when it was hived off from The Times of India’s parent company
a couple of years ago seven months ago.
Launched in 2005 with a Bennett Coleman & Co Ltd (BCCL) stamp in its imprintline, Mumbai Mirror was taken off BCCL’s books in Bombay and brought under the umbrella of Metropolitan Media Company (MMCL), which is headquartered in Bangalore, in
2018 April 2020.
MMCL also operates all the other Mirror editions in Bangalore, Ahmedabad and Pune.
“The closure of Mumbai Mirror is a corporate decision taken at the highest levels of BCCL. But making Mirror part of MMCL was an early indication that BCCL was done with it, that it no longer wanted its profits weighed down by Mirror’s losses,” says a Times source.
One non-Times source says the switch from BCCL to MMCL happened more recently, in April this year, and the employees were handed new contracts on March 18, 2020, seven days before the COVID lockdown was announced.
So, why was Mumbai Mirror in the red even after a 15-year run?
For the longest time Mumbai Mirror was offered free with The Times of India to beef up the flagship newspaper and to protect it from DNA and Hindustan Times which had entered India’s biggest advertising market. Even today it is offered in combo packages with TOI.
Result: the tabloid never had healthy, independent growth in its formative years and was always riding on TOI’s back to enter homes and minds.
Ditto, advertising revenues. Mumbai Mirror did not have its own independent stream and depended on the Response team of TOI who offered it in package deals. Result: Mirror was always an add-on, a bridesmaid never the bride.
That strategy may have had a marketing rationale when advertising was spilling over, but with COVID affecting TOI’s revenues in Mumbai, and advertising showing no signs of returning to normal, Times Group may have been felt the time was right, after the festival season, to sacrifice the lamb.
Also, a low cover price—Rs 3 in Mumbai; Rs 2 in other cities—may have made sense when chasing numbers. But with advertising squeezed and households reluctant to touch a physical newspaper out of fear of contamination, there was little incentive to keep it afloat.
Plus, with “deals” done through Medianet and Times Private Treaties and Optimal Media Solutions, and Brand Capital the real revenue picture was never what it seemed.
So, why has Bangalore Mirror been spared?
One reading is that its future too is uncertain. Key editorial contracts haven’t been extended since July. Another possibility is that unlike Mumbai Mirror it still has a purpose to serve.
Mumbai Mirror’s key objective was to stave off competitors. That goal was achieved when DNA announced its closure. Hindustan Times is gamefully trying to soldier on. The Hindu has very nearly decamped, leaving The Times of India in an unassailable position.
The situation is identical in Bangalore but with one difference. Deccan Chronicle and DNA have both closed down their editions, but there are other competitors like Deccan Herald and The Hindu, although the gap between them and TOI is large.
Maybe Bangalore Mirror is awaiting a buyer.
Already there are rumours that the title of Ahmedabad Mirror has been sold to Suresh Patel of Sayona Group, who also runs Nav Gujarat Samay which was The Times of India Gujarati earlier.
So, how do the Jains—billionaire vegetarians—find it so easy to brutally kill a paper and mercilessly throw so many journalists and employees out of a job when India is in “economic recession” in their own reckoning?
“In the Times stable, publications are like horses. Those that are fit are chosen to run the race; those that hobble are retired or put to sleep,” says a former Times executive.
Mumbai Mirror had probably fallen into the second bucket.
Plus, Samir Jain has a long history of unsentimentally killing off unviable publications.
Since his entry into the group in the mid-1980s, at least 25 newspapers and magazines of The Times group have been retired by FMCG executives for whom there is no difference between soap, toothpaste and journalism.
These are the publications that have seen their end in the Samir Jain era.
The Illustrated Weekly of India
Career & Competition Times
Evening News of India
Metropolis on Saturday
Navbharat Times, Lucknow and Patna
The Times of India Kannada
The Economic Times Gujarati
Many of those titles were thriving market leaders respected for their content and credibility. Shutting down a bleeding tabloid is, in that sense, small beer. In the tradition of his faith, death is not something Jain Senior allows to weigh him down.
Not for too long, certainly not in public.