Opposite the sprawling campus of Fortis Escorts is Siraj Uddin’s modest stationery shop in Sarai Jullena. Since 1987, Uddin’s Raju Stationery situated in south Delhi has been selling newspapers and magazines. Besides that, they also deliver newspapers to nearby homes. Uddin wonders “who will buy such an expensive newspaper” referring to the recently-launched Delhi edition of DNA.
He feels that the cover price of Rs 10 at which the newspaper is being sold presently might be a challenge. “Market has gone down. People are consuming news on mobile and the internet,” he says. Uddin buys around 20-25 copies of popular newspapers like The Times of India and Hindustan Times from the hawkers early in the morning.
He has bought 10 copies of DNA on a daily basis in the past one week. The other day he could only manage two copies of DNA due to a shortage in the newspaper’s supply to the hawker in the mandi. “One or two people bought DNA on the first and second day after its launch,” he says.
“Delhi is the only urban agglomeration on the planet from where as many as sixteen English daily publications are printed and distributed. But the market is highly skewed or oligopolistic because the top two dailies account for roughly three-fourths of the total market,” wrote Jyotirmoy Chaudhuri and Paranjoy Guha Thakurta in 2014.
On October 11, Zee Media’s DNA joined the long list of English language dailies being published from the national capital. The 32-pager was promoted heavily on social media with the hashtag #SayNoToJunk, a reference to other newspapers allegedly involved in sensational journalism. Before it went to print for the first time in Delhi, a Facebook Live video posted on DNA’s profile provided the readers with a peep inside the newspaper’s printing press.
It was a clever marketing strategy aimed at generating curiosity among readers during the fateful hours prior to DNA hitting the newsstands in the city. Around midnight, Rohit Gandhi, Editor-in-Chief of DNA, too did a Facebook Live introducing the newspaper’s objective and team. In the video, Gandhi explains that the motive is to create a newspaper that readers can use on a daily basis. He asserts that the newspaper will provide information about varied subjects including entertainment, environment and health.
“It’s an uncompromised newspaper. We will not be sold. Period,” Gandhi proclaims. But Zee Media’s other recent initiative in the form of an international channel i.e. WION, which is also edited by Gandhi, has already come under the scanner for its handling of news. The website of World is One News (WION) took down an article authored by University of Westminster’s Prof. Dibyesh Anand without providing an explanation.
In an article for The Wire titled “Zee Media took down my article on Kashmir without offering any explanation’, Anand writes, “As a matter of courtesy, if not professionalism, WION must provide an answer as to why this article that they had commissioned in the first place and published was censored and taken down.” An explanation, however, was never provided.
NK Singh is General Secretary of Broadcast Editors’ Association. He has had a very different experience while writing for DNA. “I never came across any situation where somebody would even strike off a single line. It was a very independent newspaper,” Singh says. He believes that the Delhi edition of DNA has the opportunity to carve a niche for itself.
Talking about the beauty of democracy, he mentions that “there is always scope for a new newspaper and news channel” to flourish. According to Singh, the reason for this is the rise in aspirations of Indians owing to an increase in literacy and per capita income. In his opinion, media’s role is taking a different trajectory. He cautions that the newspaper will have to refrain from taking sides and think objectively to gain credibility.
Gandhi tells exchange4media that they are trying to bring out a newspaper that is unbiased and non-judgemental. When asked about the cover price, he says, “This is the price of reading a good newspaper.” Elaborating further, he states that the actual cost of printing a newspaper is higher than Rs 20.
The difference in the cost has to be balanced by advertising. It leads to newspaper proprietors bending before their advertisers. “You will have to compromise somewhere,” Gandhi mentions as he refers to this reality. Hence, DNA will sell at a higher price than its competitors since Gandhi maintains the need to be “honest with our readers”.
When VK Chopra, Chief Patron of Delhi Advertising Club, was questioned about the kind of advertisers that DNA is expected to garner, he states, “It’s a numbers game. How soon can a newspaper build its readership and circulation? Until you don’t have readers, advertisers won’t invest.”
Among the new subscribers of DNA in Delhi is Supriyo Gupta, Managing Director, Torque Communications. Reasoning that the price point will be a huge barrier, he says, “It is a bit of a challenge unless you offer a differentiated product to reach out to an audience where established players exist.” Stating that the differentiated appeal is missing from DNA at the moment, he suggests that it looks like another newspaper with a higher price.
Gupta insists that some publications have managed to alter dynamics of the market by offering a product with a completely new look and feel. He recounts that when The Telegraph was launched in the 1980s, The Statesman almost instantly folded up. Similarly, HT launched Mint with a different positioning.
Stressing that the price is not directed at garnering revenues from newspaper sales, he adds, “I see it more as a positioning gambit rather than a revenue gambit.” But the question is whether the positioning will get justified through the stories published in the paper.
Commanding the unique experience of dabbling with both the editorial and business aspect of newspapers, Shekhar Gupta notes that the market is willing to pay for quality content. “The Hindu sells at Rs 8 with quite a sizeable circulation,” says Gupta, former CEO & Editor-in-Chief of The Indian Express.
The Chennai-based daily is a fine example of a newspaper managing to sell well despite a high market price. Terming Subhash Chandra as “one of the few genuine entrepreneurs who take risks”, Gupta express his faith in Chandra’s ability to deliver since he has many firsts to his credit ranging from satellite television to electronic lottery.
Arun Sharma, Senior Vice President, Lodestar, agrees that Zee has a deep pocket but he finds the upcoming “battle to be extremely tough” for DNA. “In the past, newspapers like Mail Today have not been successful,” he says. Mentioning that DNA had limited success in Mumbai where they were rivalling the Times of India, Delhi is an altogether different market full of competition.
“We have seen that besides the top two dailies even the number three daily has found it difficult to compete in this market,” he reasons. Sharma concludes that DNA will require strong content and brilliant marketing to succeed.