As Bengal gears up for its main festival, Durga Puja, which starts this weekend, just about everything is in a tizzy. But in this season of everything ‘digital’ and everything sells, the traditional Puja Annual numbers from the major Kolkata-based publications continue to enjoy their pride of place.
For the Bengali intelligentsia, these publications are like a treasure trove of reading material that they consume over a large part of the year. “In the language of media planners, these annual numbers have a long shelf-life and high pass-along readership,” explained Raj Datta of The Media Edge, Kolkata.
The contents of the Puja numbers, which have a strong literary skew, can also be said to be a point-in-time reflection of the Bengali society and its mores.
Said Amitava Sinha, Senior Vice-President, Rediffusion DYR, Kolkata, “For those of us who have grown up in this milieu, these Puja numbers are not only a very efficacious multiple OTS media vehicle, but also an important part of the Bengali cultural heritage. In our schooldays, for instance, during Pujas every year, Satyajit Ray would come out with a new mystery starring his fictional detective Feluda in one of the Puja numbers that we would eagerly look forward to. Even today, these publications are often the forum for many a renowned Bengali novelist to premiere their latest writings and for the readers to get a sense of the emerging trends and perspectives.”
Not just the major Bengali publication houses like the ABP Group, Sangbad Pratidin, Bartaman, Aajkal, several other lesser known names, even ‘The Statesman’, the English daily from Kolkata, has a festive edition that hits the stands in the lead-up to the Pujas. All of them, by and large, are a pot pourri of novels, short stories, poems, travelogues, as well as topical features on fashion, sport, and popular entertainment.
This is somewhat true even of the special interest publications like those targeted at school children ‘Anandamela’ or for that matter the celebrity and lifestyle magazine ‘Anandalok’, both from the ABP stable, which was the first to introduce the concept of Puja numbers.
“Apart from these two titles, we also bring out the ‘Desh’, which is heavy on literature, ‘Ananda Bazar Patrika’ offering a mix of literature and light reading, and a less serious and affordable ‘Sharadiya Patrika’ with a cover price of Rs 20,” elaborated Anuttama Das, Brand Manager – Bengali Magazines, ABP Group.
The ABP Group has, in fact, reworked the cover price of their Puja numbers, pegging them mostly at Rs 70, to keep them within the reach of the middle class and more in line with that of the others, which are priced at less than Rs 50. ‘Sangbad Pratidin’, on the other hand, has been incentivising its readers by giving a free Bengali music cassette, ‘Pran Khola Gaan’, by leading contemporary artistes.
Barring Bartaman, there are no audited circulation figures for these special
editions, though their print runs run into lakhs. Said Ashish Mukherjee,
Controller Strategic Planning, Marketing Bartaman Pvt Ltd, “Bartaman has
been doing an ABC checked audit for ages. This is the only ABC certified
Puja Annual from West Bengal. The last ABC figure for Sharadia Bartaman is
These are also significant revenue generators for the publications, what
with major national advertisers using them in a big way. Apart from the
typical display ads, today there is scope for gatefolds, bookmarks, branded
spine, and even advertorials that get booked well in advance.
Said Kaustav Chaterjee, General Manager (East), India Today Group, “From the media point of view, the Puja numbers continue to be winners. However, today they are probably more relevant for durables and white goods than for consumables. Thanks to the mall culture and special promotions, personal shopping has become more of a year round phenomenon and is no longer linked to the festive season.”
Be that as it may, for the educated Bengali populace, the Puja numbers continue to be an intrinsic part of the Pujas, much like the frenzied shopping for new clothes and of course the pandal hopping. And for advertisers, these numbers continue to be a sought after media vehicle.