2011 was a year of excitement in news rooms. Heads of the powers that be rolled one after the other, thanks to the ‘trial by media’ on the scams that squirmed like worms from the can called Indian Democracy. And there was Anna Hazare, seeking to cleanse the mess with the time tested Gandhian broom, Sathyagraha. Rest of the world, too, saw many tumults with the Jasmine Revolution, killing of Osama Bin Laden. While downgrading of credit ratings of the US and Euro zone evoked anxiety in the globalised economy, celebrations dominated in India when it was crowned as world champions in Cricket World Cup 2011. Enough fodder for media.
Print media, like most of its younger cousins – Television and New Media – thrived on this scenario. While many magazines in the rest of the world made their tryst with destiny and folded up, Indian market saw the launch of leading publications such as Forbes, Entrepreneur, Harper’s Bazaar, Technology Review and People.
But regionalisation was the mantra of 2011. Malayalam magazine Vanitha lead the scene with 25.9 lakh readers on an average per issue, in Q3 of 2011, moving ahead of Hindi and English weeklies. Indian language newspapers like Dainik Jagran, Dainik Bhasker, Hindustan, Amar Ujala, Lokmat, Daily Thanthi, Dinakaran, Ananda Bazar Patrika and Eenadu reported much higher circulation and reach than the leading English dailies. Advertisement revenues from Indian language segments matched with English segments, which has to date enjoyed the lion’s share. To put in a nut shell, regional print publications have grown by 12 per cent in 2011, which on any scale is impressive.
All these don’t seem to be a flash in the pan, considering the potentials of the new generation. A readership survey undertaken by the National Book Trust-National Council of Applied Economic Research shows more than two-thirds of the 333 million or so literate youth in the country prefer newspapers to any other media when it comes to news and current affairs. Almost a fourth of them get a newspaper at home, and around one in ten subscribe to a magazine.
Increasing literacy rates amongst the 13-to 35-year-olds, rising incomes and a vibrant press definitely augur good days for print publications. What is heartening is print media, along with its growth has sustained its credibility that it nurtured over the years. While television is seen largely as an entertainment medium by the youth, print is their primary source for news, according to readership survey of literate Indian youth.
The survey points out that youth have lost in interest in politics. But they are not indifferent to social issues as could be seen from their response to the advent of Tamil weeklies Puthiya Thalaimurai and Puthiya Thalaimurai Kalvi. Puthiya Thalaimurai magazines have launched a new genre in Tamil journalism by focusing on youth development and social responsibilities and were received overwhelmingly by the readers. They became the leading non-political, non-fiction Tamil weeklies in a short span of six months.
Yet the challenges that are in store for print media are not small. Despite the huge numbers that are ahead of English media, there is a fall in the average issue readership. Digitisation is the solution. It must be reckoned that the per capita consumption of New Media is increasing, and enormous potential waits at the Internet. (In spite of the buzz on the social networking, India has only 80 million Internet users for I billion population) i-Padding the print publications and newspapers on mobile will become inevitable if not in 2012, then in the next five years.
While we all can cherish on the fodder the political class and sports starts providing the news rooms, it is time to invest in and harness new technologies to stay ahead. Some newspapers like Tamil daily Dinamalar have already stepped into the arena. Others are expected to follow suit.
(N Maalan is Editor, Puthiya Thalaimurai.)