Mr. Ramesh Gupta, vice-chairman of the New Delhi-based Rs.120-crore Tej Bandhu group, is a proud man today. "Ever heard of the Comptroller and Auditor-General of India (CAG) complimenting anyone in its reports? Well, it has happened in our case," boasts Mr.Gupta. The CAG, he claims, has credited M&N Publications Ltd., a Rs.60-crore turnover company of the group, for fulfilling its contracts with the Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) diligently by bringing out telephone directories – the white and yellow pages – on time.
M&N Publications, says Mr. Gupta, prints telephone directories for 13 Indian cities. Recently, the company has bagged a BSNL contract for publishing telephone directories for Bangalore. But he says the business is not very attractive as it seems from outside. "Last year, due to BSNL's expansion plans in Chennai and other places, we just broke even," he points out.
The company comes out with its yellow pages, 'Getit', by charging advertisers. For the BSNL, the company publishes its telephone directory, white pages, free of cost. The 'quid pro quo' for it is to bind the 'Getit Yellow Pages' with the free directory (white pages) distributed by BSNL to all its subscribers in a particular city. Thus, a BSNL subscriber gets the telephone directory free of cost and M&N Publications rakes in money from its 'Getit Yellow Pages'.
The arrangement worked well for M&N Publications as the widely circulated 'Getit Yellow Pages' were seen as the official yellow pages by advertisers. The company was making good money, but problems cropped up when the BSNL embarked on its expansion spree. This resulted in the number of pages and copies to be printed going up by a huge number.
"Twelve years ago, the Chennai telephone directory had just 400 pages. Today, it has more than 2,000," remarks Mr. Gupta. "The increase in the number of pages doesn''t matter much. What bothers us is an increase in the number of copies to be printed," adds his son, Mr. Siddarth Gupta, chief operating officer. According to him, the deal with BSNL-Chennai doesn't have any escalation clause and it is a long-term contract entered without factoring the increase in tele-density.
"We are not able to increase the advertisement tariff rates of our yellow pages beyond a certain point," he adds. According to the group vice chairman, M&N Publications is now renegotiating with BSNL-Chennai for better rates. As per its proposal, the telecom service provider will be provided with a specified number of free copies and will have to pay for additional ones. Meanwhile, M&N Publications is planning to divide its 'Getit Yellow Pages,' Chennai, into two volumes – B2C (household listings) and B2B (commercial listings). "The needs of households and the business community are entirely different. We are dividing the yellow pages just to help our users," reasons Mr. Gupta. According to him, the usage of yellow pages is higher in Chennai compared to that in other cities in India. Besides, the company is charting its web strategy. "We plan to start a unique portal which would bring the buyers and sellers together sans any payment gateway and other technicalities," says Mr. Sidarth.
"It's just an value-added service for our subscribers to complement our print business," says he. The company has already developed a B2B site, www.asianvendors.com, with a listing of products, services and a database relating to several Asian countries. Moreover, a new business plan is being chalked out for the group, which also publishes magazines and dailies, including Sun, Free Ads, North East Sun and Flash, a free neighbourhood daily in Delhi.