Experienced Media Planners, Buyers more so, have an understandable habit. You mention a language or a region, and up pop the corresponding mainline daily. It rolls of the tongue almost inadvertently. One of the reasons is the sheer longevity these leaders have enjoyed at the top. Conventional wisdom says that in print, it is a monumental task, if not an impossible one, to dethrone a market leader. That should be the reason why there have not been too many serious attempts at that. Rajasthan remains the only exception. But now, thanks to Rajasthan, likely challengers elsewhere see a lot of hope.
The IRS 01-R1 survey points at a host of markets where the gap between the top-two is fast narrowing.
Anandabazar Patrika, for as long as anybody may care to remember, has ruled the average Bengali’s news palate. Over the decades, it has built two things- 5 million strong readership and, more than that, a halo around itself. Last two rounds of IRS point at a phenomenon that most Bengalis would find difficult to believe. Bartaman, is reported to have gathered over 80% of what Anadabazar has- 4.2 million readers. 800,000 readers that separate the two are in Kolkata. Elsewhere, on an average, Bartaman has achieved parity with Anadabazar. For a barely 15 year old, this is a remarkable performance. And for the leader, it is time for some introspection. Rumour has it that Bartaman’s editor Barun babu (in eighties, then working for Anandabazar, he was called Uttam Kumar of Bengali journalism) has a keener sense of the political mood of the bhadralok and the wannabes. Which way does he lean? Well, certainly not towards Left. And not Sonia either.
This is one market, which had, for years, sub-regions clearly demarcating the territories of the dailies too- broadly, Loksatta in Mumbai, Sakal in Western Maharashtra and Lokmat in Vidarbha. In eighties, their readership levels followed the same order. Nineties saw these leaders crossover to others’ turf in search of growth. Loksatta started with facsimile editions in Pune and Nagpur. Nothing much was achieved. Sakal moved to Mumbai. Result ditto. But Lokmat’s forays into Mumbai and Western Maharashtra have paid off. Among dailies with more than 3 million readers, Lokmat has had the most spectacular growth. At 7.3 million readers, it has almost as many as the second (Sakal-4.2 million) and third (Loksatta-3.2 million) put together. In Mumbai, in just a few years, Lokmat has overtaken the likes of Maharashtra Times and Samnaa.
But what distinguishes Marathi segment from other markets is a strong showing by smaller newspapers. These dailies hold on to their strongholds, which is often just a district or two. Deshdoot, Deshonnatti, Kesari, Sanchar, Gavakari, Pudhari, Prabhat, Tarun Bharat, and the likes total up a gross readership of almost 10 million out of a total of 32 million. No other market has the examples of such resilience of the smaller dailies against the might of the multi-edition monoliths.
Malayalam, Tamil and Telugu
The reason why these segments have been clubbed is not so much because they are contiguous but because they show similar trends. All three have been bipolar for some time. They are moving further in the same direction.
Vaartha (4.2 million) in AP has grown into a distant but credible number two to Eenadu (9.6 million). Likewise, in Tamil, Dinamalar (4.6 million) follows Thanti (10.3 million) by a similar margin. In both the segments, other dailies are losing readers and relevance fast. Malayalam, witnesses a, relatively, closer race among the top two. Manorama leads (9.2 million) but Mathrubhoomi (6.7 million) is not as far behind. Mathrubhoomi and Manorama have a keen contest in northern and southern Kerala. It is in the Christian dominated middle region that tilts the scales decisively in favour of Manorama. Here too, every other daily is losing readers.
All dailies have lost readers. Prajavani (3.8 million) has lost only 1% but other three have lost in double digits. Both, Udayvani and Kannada Prabha have lost almost a quarter of their readers over last year. Samyukta Karnataka got away with 14% drop. Everybody losing is strange. Do they need a Kannada version of ToI to shake them up?
Here too, all significant dailies have lost readers. The hapless Mumbai Samachar, oldest surviving daily in India, has lost a good 20%. This almost seals its fate in the contest for leadership in Mumbai vis-à-vis Gujarat Samachar. Gujarat Samachar (5.1 million) has now emerged as leader in all key cities- Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Surat, Rajkot and Mumbai. The plurality among dailies in Gujarat was under strain for sometime. With the weakening of Phulchhab, Gujarat Mitra, Saurashtra Samachar, etc. in their respective strongholds, Gujarat too is going the bipolar way. Sandesh (4.5 million), for the uninitiated, brings up the other pole.
There isn’t much to report in other language segments.