On the face of it, it is all quiet on the readership front. IRS R1-01 suggests that there is stagnation from last round to this round. Among over 20 million readers, English dailies have lost about 28,000 odd gross readers. But, this is no more than a helicopter-view of the scenario. Look a little closer and there is an interesting pattern emerging. One can segment the markets under two broad clusters- Battle zones and sleepy hamlets. Battle zones are throbbing. There is growth driven by competitive activity. The means deployed are almost anything that works- cover price war, Mass advertising, Hawker promotion, Free sampling, School activity, Loyalty programmes, City-supplements, ‘pretty’ pictures on the back page- anything. And all this effort shows in the numbers generated in the last one year.
The most spectacular results are visible in Delhi. The city has added almost 2.5 lakh gross readers. This is an impressive feat considering that it translates into over 10% growth in less than a year. The reasons are not far to seek. Delhi has been a battle zone between HT and ToI for over a decade. The latest numbers bring ToI almost at par with HT in the readership sweepstakes for Delhi. Both have a million plus readers. ToI is now barely 58,000 readers behind HT. It achieved this milestone by growing a scorching 24% over last year while HT remained content with just about 3%. So after “heralding a new leader in Deccan”, ToI is now a whisker away from announcing a new Sultan in the capital of Hindustan.
This small but strategic town north of Delhi suddenly woke up to readership wars early last year. HT and ToI started their editions within days of each other. A town, with a population size so small that it is not even among top 50 cities in India, now boasts of four morning dailies in English. Chandigarh is one of the rare cities where Indian Express (over a lakh readers) is the leader among English dailies. The city has a strong number two in The Tribune. But both, Tribune as well as Express, has a battle at hand to keep their readers from straying. ToI and HT are past masters in the art of sustained wooing. Both have grown by over 40% and 70% respectively in the last one year, albeit, over a small base.
The ‘trumpets’ of Pune battle have been heard wherever advertising moneybags are located. The advertising has been bitter and no-holds-barred. While Pune shares the honours with Chandigarh for being an Indian Express town as far as the readership goes, ToI has, in barely a year of launching their local edition, turned the tables on over a decade old incumbent in the ABC. ToI has been ‘trumpeting’ this feat in its ads. The latest IRS R1-01 data, however, gives Express a sizable (close to 50,000 copies) lead over ToI. Survey reported close to 1,70,000 readers of Indian Express in Pune. This led Express to ‘wonder’ what happens to all the ToI copies sold in Pune, if they are not read. To spare you an agonising quest for an answer, they had a clue in their ad. A toilet roll made out of newspaper. How very subtle indeed! No-holds-barred did we mention?
Bangalore has been in news due to a phenomenal spectacle of shifting reader loyalties. It all started when ToI, comatose for almost a decade since its launch, woke up to alter the circulation pegging order. Deccan Herald responded by not responding. It turned out to be a replay of the epic Statesman Vs Telegraph war, which went unfought. In less than a year, ToI has added another 1.11 lakh readers, a whopping 32% growth. Herald has lost 14,000 readers. It may want to take solace in the fact that Indian Express has lost more (43,000) and that every other English daily including Economic Times (lost 6,000). Even Hindu has (lost 3,000) met a similar fate. While the market has grown barely 2.5%, ToI seems on its way to capture Bangalore, comprehensively.
Hyderabad is the latest arena for the newspaper warriors. ToI launched its edition here late last year. A key market in its southern strategy, Hyderbad must have been expected to be another easy picking after Bangalore. Most of ToI’s key moves in a new market, were by then, very well known-‘Invitation cover-pricing,' city supplements, throwaway ad tariff, and bleeding-the-competition-white by forcing profit-squeezing measures on them. ToI was pre-empted much ahead of their launch. Deccan Chronicle (over 6 lakh readers) was given a complete makeover under the editorial stewardship of battle-hardened MJ Akbar. Even the coyly Hindu (170,000 readers) wore war paint in anticipation. Almost a year and three Resident Editors later, ToI in Hyderabad seems poised for a long haul. It has barely 5% of the city’s English readership universe. To be fair to ToI, the IRS R1-01 data is a study barely six months after the ToI-launch in Hyderabad. But even during this period, Chronicle has grown. Hindu has grown by almost as much as the total size of ToI readership. ToI at over 40,000 readers has the satisfaction of moving ahead of only the lowly Indian Express.
This city is the arena for the longest and the oldest of the continuing battles for supremacy. Launched in 1982, The Telegraph waged a relentless battle for a tortuously slow growth vis-à-vis Statesman. After scoring over Statesman on various criteria, The Telegraph finally storms the last bastion- the city readership in Calcutta. At 583,000 readers it is 10,000 odd readers ahead. A slender lead all right but, now, an unqualified leadership. ToI and HT too have staked a claim in this none too sought-after market among metros. ToI has managed to double its base in less than a year. At 90,000 it is still a long way off but not so invisible in the rear view mirror of the ever alert Telegraph. Asian Age, after a spectacular run four years back is leveled with ToI as of now but shrinking. Growing at about 9.5% in less than a year, Calcutta added one and a quarter lakh gross readers to English dailies. An incredible feat by Kolkata standards.
There are even more markets where the players are beginning to emerge from their slumber. Lucknow, Vizag, Trivandrum, Bhubaneshwar, etc. With ToI slated to launch from Kochi next before their assault on Chennai, and HT threatening to take the battle right into the ToI backyard in Mumbai, there is a lot more action in store in the months to come. We, probably, ain’t seen nothin yet!