CNA successfully selling news since 1936
Central News Agency (CNA), an institution which is a passion for generations, is now steering ahead to reach new milestones. Today, in its 75th year, nurtured from a one-man business to a 250+ organisation, deriving strength from its strong commitment to customer service, CNA’s group companies are actively involved in the distribution of print and electronic media, including newspapers, magazines, books, CD-ROMs, journals and periodicals from all over the country and abroad. Smita Dwivedi in candid conversation with RP Puri, chairman, CNA along with Santosh Puri and Nita Puri of the agency brings an essence of the agency’s news business that really matters!
CNA located in the heart of Delhi, Connaught Place is definitely a different bookshop as all visitors are allowed sitting and reading as long as they want. What amazes everyone to see is a well-dressed 93-year-old visionary, who is also a chairman of CNA engrossed in reading his favourite newspapers The Tribune, Millennium Post and Mail Today on a chilly winter morning. It was indeed a pleasure to know some wonderful tales from him while Santosh and Nita added their views.
Being foremost newspaper and magazine distribution company
Like many other great conglomerates, CNA too had a humble beginning. In 1936, in the salubrious climate of Shimla, an idea occurred to a young and frail physical culture enthusiast to set up a mail-order business for books written by some of the then popular body and character building sages like Bernarr McFadden, Orison Swett Marden and James Allen. The author of this idea was Late BR Puri, the eldest of the three brothers (BR, RP & BS) of the Puri family, which runs and controls what is today, India's foremost newspaper and magazine distribution company with operations in the country and outside too.
How has been the journey so far, to which Nita replied, “It was a smooth sailing for us. As our elders, my dad and uncles had worked really hard to establish it. But now we are facing some challenges, due to declining readership. So, we are working hard to maintain its dignity.”
RP Puri shared a story about his entry to this business in 1942, “Both my brothers were in government jobs, so they were unable to spend much time in this business. And I was a freedom fighter and was jailed. So, once I got freed, I moved to Delhi and got actively involved in the business and since then there’s no looking back.” Having made a beginning with the door delivery of newspapers and magazines to a handful of customers in New Delhi, year 1953 was the big year for him. As RP Puri started CNA from this very place and the rest is history.
Serving news to friendly clients
From Radhakrishnan to Indira Gandhi and from Ram Manohar Lohia to Khushwant Singh, all have visited this place. Prime minister Manmohan Singh was also a regular visitor, “Once Dr Manmohan Singh called me and asked if his copy of The Guardian Weekly had arrived. In the 80s, Rajiv Gandhi would hop in to get the foreign photography magazines he subscribed. Teji Bachchan, Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan’s late mother, used to come daily in an auto to pick up newspapers. Her grand-daughter, married to a Delhi businessman, patronises Khan Market’s book shops instead, while politicians are not able to visit us because of security reasons,” added Santosh Puri.
Sharing about institutional clients, Nita added, “Besides PM and President House, we have several elite institutions as our buyers which include American Embassy, British High Commission, IITs, National Medical Library, American Library and many more.”
A long family affair with words
A company which operates out of nine locations in New Delhi, Mumbai, Navi Mumbai, London and New York is totally handled by PURI’s of different age groups and generations. To which they all smiled and said, “We all just love this atmosphere.”
“My husband, his brothers, my sons, daughters, daughter-in-laws and now grandson, they all have joined us. It’s a great feeling to have them all here,” added Santosh Puri, who joined the company 30 years after its establishment – following her marriage with the founder’s younger son.
And Nita, who is a daughter of the family, but continued to be associated after her marriage shared a secret as well, “There was a Madras Hotel upstairs and as kids we all used to come here to read our favourite books and magazines, while having tea, coffee and snacks regularly. We all loved delicacies served here."
RP Puri with Santosh and Nita Puri.
At present, CNA handles the distribution for several popular and important magazines and newspapers including Time, Der Spiegel, Cosmopolitan, India Today, Chip, Financial Times and Gulf News besides several others. On asking about numbers, Santosh shared, “We distribute almost all major dailies; as far as numbers are concerned it must be over 100.” They also export a wide range of Indian magazines, newspapers, books, audio/video cassettes and CD-ROMs, both in bulk as well as to individual clients. It also has the distinction of being the sole supplier of newspapers and magazines to all Indian missions overseas.
Adding more to it, Nita shared, “CNA is perhaps the only company in India to boast of an organised door delivery setup for newspapers and magazines to its clients. With a distribution team of almost 60 people, the operations of this division commence from 3 am and continue till 8 pm, all 365 days of the year, irrespective of weather conditions, striving to deliver to the customer in time and ahead of the competitors. The average number of items physically handled on a daily basis is almost 40,000.”
“The two local divisions at New Delhi and Mumbai handle the distribution of newspapers and magazines in bulk for publishers like India Today Group of publications. The subscription division handles about 50,000 orders every year for its 5,000 odd subscribers which include institutions, individuals as well as corporate clients, all demanding high standard service. CNA is a preferred subscription agent for publishers like Cambridge Scientific Abstracts, Springer-Verlag and Business Week. The entire subscription operation is completely automated with a database of about 17,500 titles from about 5,000 publishers. The information in the database is constantly updated to provide latest information to the subscribers,” she further asserted.
The only challenge the company is facing today is e-revolution. Realising the need of the hour, all the future projects are based on e-business and they are quite hopeful to lead here as well. “We are now having e-journals and online versions. And we are planning to expand in a big way,” shared Nita.
On asking about message they want to give to readers, they precisely conveyed, “Read…read and read,” said Santosh Puri. “Work hard,” added RP Puri.