New lease of life for newspapers in India

Just when you thought print would find it hard to come up trumps from the virtual dumps, there comes news from Asia of newspapers rising, adapting and changing with the times and its readers. Last week, the Times of India, the world’s largest selling English broadsheet launched an edition in the small...er...mall town of Gurgaon, near the capital New Delhi.

by

Allan Jacob

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Published: Fri 24 Sep 2010, 11:12 PM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 10:33 AM

Why Gurgaon, you may ask. Thinking small geographically seems to have paid off as the Times’s growth and sales graph have shown over the years. The daily has been successful in capturing the local flavour while not taking the eye off the ball when reading the needs of a younger audience.

This is in smart contrast to many US newspapers, who are struggling to stay afloat even as others have turned into Net-only publications, or are working overtime to script a new identity in cyberspace. Media experts there are telling those who care to hear that this is the way to go. What they won’t admit is that they have lost the plot by hedging their bets online and shunning the creative and innovative side of business. Shoddy marketing has also added to the woes. Readers have lost interest because there’s nothing different to read which can change their lives for the better.

In India, media owners are launching new editions by the day in an already crowded market. Last heard, another English print title is in the works from Orissa state, again to meet the demands of a population on the move. All this when the top 10 English and regional dailies recorded growth for the second quarter, according to the Indian Readership Survey (IRS).

The Times of India added 21,000 readers over the the first quarter for a total readership of 13.5 million. The second-ranking Hindustan Times had 6.28 million in its kitty, up by 34,000 readers from the previous quarter, while The Hindu from the south came in third at 5.2 million avid readers.

Other majors like The Telegraph, Deccan Chronicle, The New Indian Express, The Economic Times also made major gains, but nothing beat DNA, number eight on the list, which attracted 135,000 people who can’t get enough of the smell of print with their morning cuppa at home, on the trains, or at work.

But English is just the tip of the iceberg in a country of 1.2 billion with 22 officially recognised languages, 74,000 registered newspapers and a literacy rate of close to 82 per cent. The state of Uttar Pradesh has the maximum number of registered newspapers at 11,789, followed by Delhi with 10,066 and Maharashtra with 9,127. Say ‘phew’ to these numbers only after you have read the rest of the story.... in print of course.

Dainik Jagran, the Hindi daily gets the largest chunk of 55 million faithfuls from the country’s estimated readership of only 200 million, which is expected to grow and thrive in a tumultous age. The regional language press is making the most noise with Hindi leading the charge.

The top ten dailies are from this stable, including the likes of Dainik Jagran, Dainik Bhaskar, Lokmat in Marathi, Dhina Thanthi in Tamil, Malayala Manorama, Eenadu, Ananda Bazar Patrika and Rajasthan Patrika have made impressive gains this quarter. This is a far cry from what is happening in the developed world where growth is stunted and readership and revenues are going downhill.

Pundits may be inclined to link print’s fall from grace to Internet penetration and access to computers in the US. They are not entirely off the mark. However, Indian Web users stand at 81 million, a meagre 6.9 per cent of population, while neighbour and competitor China has a whopping 420 million surfers.

Overall, Asia which is on the throes of an economic boom, has only 21.5 per cent Netizens. Compare this with soaring US figures of over 234 million, or 77.4 per cent of inhabitants and you will know what this writer is talking about.

Now that the figures are out of the way and technology is in charge of US news consuming habits, it’s encouraging to know that the media story is starting to unfold in Asia with dailies bringing back the real joy of reading.

Everyone matters in the news order of the Sub-continent, from the street-side vendor to the jet-setting tycoon with a penchant for the fine things in life.

Politics is largely passe and issues that matter are roads, health, hygiene and education in a complex, riven society on the cusp of change. Many live reel dreams with movie stars, sleaze is a breeze and hip-swinging socialites hold away, too. There’s room for all ages on the pages.

Customising content for consumers has been the key to this success story. Advertisers are coming in droves to make money from this business of creativity, not to forget there’s moolah in the numbers and diversity of the country.

Online news customisation may be happening on Yahoo, AOL and Google to keep wanderers busy as they lose their way in cyberspace.

But for those going through the daily grind of life, the humble, foldable and handheld paper still evokes wonder. And let’s not forget that in the beginning was the ‘printed’ word.

Allan Jacob is Chief Reporter of Khaleej Times. For comments, write to him at allan@khaleejtimes.com



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