Majhera village, my native place, situated 30 kms far from Nainital and an hour’s uphill walk from the nearest motor road, religiously witnesses the act of the newspaper vendor delivering my father’s favourite Hindi daily at 7 o’ clock sharp every morning. This whole practice dates back to my childhood days when the newspaper used to take an entire day and was sometimes even delivered next day with stale news in my village. However, in last one decade, irrespective of the size or distance of the place, the reach and the penetration of newspapers in small villages and small towns of India have grown tremendously.
While, in cities newspapers are the source of knowledge and information, in small villages and towns, it is stuff for the day-long gossip at tiny tea-shops or panchayats. And it seems, perhaps, newspaper publishers have recognised this evolving reading habit of consumers. That is one of the reasons why 2010 saw most newspapers launching hyper local editions to give an extra dose of local happenings.
Moreover, after the period of global slowdown, 2010 was a year of re-ignition for the Indian newspaper industry. Big brands moved ahead with their long-awaited plans and many small newspaper publishers witnessed expansion. exchange4media takes a look at whether language newspapers lived up to their promise in the year gone.
Branding the Regional
The post slow down period, beginning December 2009, saw Hindi and regional newspaper companies establishing themselves as big brands. Hindustan Media Ventures Ltd came up with its IPO in 2010, and prior to this, in December 2009, Dainik Bhaskar Corporation too jumped into the capital market and saw the scrip being oversubscribed. As I am filing this report, Lokmat group is also planning to come up with an IPO.
Apart from this, most of the big language newspaper brands entered small territories to cater to the small group of consumers. This move also witnessed top three or sometimes four brands involved in intense competition and strategic price wars. That, eventually, had benefitted the readers and advertisers.
In the year gone by, presence of Hindi newspaper brands on Twitter and Facebook platforms became more robust, moreover, some brands strengthened their digital presence as well. Apart from these initiatives, Hindi and regional newspapers also carried out lots of reader engagement activities which further helped in brand recognition. Some of the big brands also experimented with the 3D technology for their advertising partners.
… Yet Small Businesses
While big brands enjoyed the last season, small newspapers were in trouble in some parts of the country. Middle of the year 2010 had seen small newspaper brands of Jammu and Kashmir lamenting over losing business because of the curfew situation in the state. Many newspapers did not function for several days which consequently hit the subscription as well as ad revenues of the publications. North-Eastern states also saw some strife during the year- Some times because of tussle between government and journalists and sometimes threats from militants, due to which, quite a few times newspapers could not hit the newsstands.
In other states like Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar, people were seen foraying into newspapers businesses. However, due to the lack of a clear revenue model, they are likely to survive on DAVP or governments ads. Yet, the challenge for the small newspaper groups to woo the local and small advertisers remains the same.
What awaits 2011?
India is growing with around 8.5 per cent GDP rate, literacy rate seems to be increasing, rate of industrialisation has gone up, retail business is flourishing even in small towns and most importantly big brands are entering small Indian markets – these will be the some of the biggest driving forces for the newspaper industry to expand their business in 2011. Adding to this, we can witness few major developments in the year around the various state elections. Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Kerala, are the three big newspaper markets will witness elections in 2011 and newspaper owners are expected to take full like advantage of this opportunity. Many newspaper brands that were suffering from recession-phobia are also expected to go for brand expansions.
Meanwhile, readers were definitely benefitted by the expansion of the newspaper industry in the previous decade. But from the business prospective, for newspaper owners challenges still remain same. It seems that dependency on advertisement/advertorial revenue cannot get over in the near future; which means the edit sanctity will always be under peril. However, the recently concluded Bihar elections has a silver lining in the paid news case. Yet as few states will witness elections this year, the ghost of paid news can again haunt the industry in 2011. ‘Measurement’ for small newspapers is still a far-fetched idea and there is no authentic numbers to monitor their performance. With answers of some of these questions, I hope year 2011 will inaugurate the new decade for language newspaper industry on a positive note.