From James Augustus Hicky’s launch of the ‘Bengal Gazette’ in 1780 in Bengal to the launch of ‘The Hans India’ by K Ramachandra Murthy in Andhra Pradesh in 2011, the 231-year-old print media industry in India has seen many roller-coaster rides.
In the midst of all the chaos, the freedom of expression survived and so did the print industry in a landscape where many forces now woo the same consumer. However competitive the mediascape may be today, in much of its journey of over two centuries, print enjoyed its monopoly.
Without poring over the history of two centuries, let’s cut to the year 2005 as a reference point for this topic. So in 2005, when the print media (daily newspapers and periodicals) was 225 years old, it had an ad revenue of Rs 5,700 crore with an Average Issue Readership (AIR) base of 17.39 crore (Age 12+ individuals, IRS 2005-R1).
In 2011, though in terms of ad revenue, print has grown by 72.3 per cent and is placed at Rs 9,992 crore, reader-wise it could expand its base only by 3 per cent or by 58.09 lakh individuals, to be precise. Today, print media has an AIR base of 17.91 crore individuals (IRS 2011-Q1).
It would be interesting, therefore, to know how print media has done after 2005 with the investments opening up, and with regional boundaries being blurred by different media houses. Let us find out how it has cultivated the reader.
This study keeps the focus on just seven issues. How has it grown language-wise? How are males and females responding? Have the different age groups responded uniformly? Where is its growth coming from – urban or rural India? Applying filters of population strata, how have the different geographic segments responded to print’s appeal? Which socio-economic classes have continued to patronise print and finally how many print consumers are exposed to the lure of other media?
Mind your Language: Despite the popular belief, low on cost, high on pages and content and attractive in design and layout, besides having a pan-India presence, the English daily newspaper segment does not enjoy the largest reader base. As of today, English has the fourth largest reader base in India with 1.75 crore readers. The English newspaper segment could add just 7.18 lakh new readers, despite the fact that the segment has seen many new launches of titles as well as newer editions of an existing newspaper.
(AIR not for the whole print media, but just daily newspapers. Figures in thousands.)
In the period 2005 to 2011, the Hindi daily segment has seen umpteen new launches of both new titles as well as new editions. However, the Hindi segment could recruit 36.26 lakh new readers. Incidentally, Hindi dailies have together added the largest base of new readers across all languages for the print media. With a base of 6.29 crore individuals today, Hindi dailies have a presence across almost all states.
Marathi, which has also seen many new launches in the same period, has the next best base of 1.89 crore AIR, but it has lost 1 per cent of its reader base during these six years. Malayalam dailies have done well growth-wise, as it has added the second best growth of 35.40 lakh readers. However, its current reader base is the third largest with 1.88 crore.
Not just Marathi newspapers, even Punjabi, Urdu, Assamese and Tamil dailies have lost precious average issue readers in the focus period.
Gender wonder: Taking the whole of the print media, across all languages and all periodicities, during 2005 for out of every 100 readers, 71 were male. Today, this gender count has come down to 67.
Print media has lost 21.57 lakh male readers (down 2 per cent) in this period. What is heartening is that it also had added 79.66 lakh female readers (up 16 per cent). This perhaps has saved the day for print from reader erosion. Growth in female readership could be attributed to growth in literacy and the customised feature section focused on their reading needs. Today, the male readership for print media is 12.14 crore and female base is 5.83 crore.
Age Edge: The bad news is that print is losing the youngsters, despite doing its best to woo them through content customization – both soft reading material as well as topics of academic and career interest.
The overall teen segment of 12-19 years has seen a drop from 25.6 per cent share of readers in 2005 to 22.5 per cent in 2011, losing thereby 40.61 lakh readers. But if we split this segment into junior teen segment of 12- 14 years, the cluster has seen a marginal jump from 8.7 per cent to 9.4 per cent, adding thereby 17.98 lakh new readers.
The prime youth segment of 20-29 years has also witnessed a fall. It had a share of 28.2 per ent readers in 2005, which has now come down to 25.4 per cent share, losing a chunk of 33.49 lakh precious readers.
The bad news ends there. From here on, as reader age advances, there is growth all round. The age segment of 30-39 years has added 23.07 lakh (7 per ent) new readers and 40-49 years segment has added 52.85 lakh (24 per cent). Similarly, even the 50+ years segment has also added 56.28 lakh readers.
Urban heavy? For every 100 print readers, 54 came from urban India in 2005. Today, it has gone up to 56. Regional print, despite doing its best, dropped rural reader share from 46 per cent to 44 per cent in the last six years, but the rural base being small, the loss is of 3.48 lakh readers. Indian print reach despite being urban heavy, reaches only 36 per cent urbanites. Even after an existence of over two centuries, a huge urban base of 18.16 crore cannot be reached through print. Though rural India can be excused for being low on literacy and distribution logistics, print has managed to reach only 13 per cent of rural population or a base of 7.94 crore individuals.
Village or Town: Of every 100 readers that print gets today, 16 come from the top eight metros (4+ million populated towns) , 11 from mini metro (1 million+ towns), six from towns with 5 lakh to 10 lakh population, 11 from towns with 1 lakh to 5 lakh people, 12 from towns with population below 1 lakh. That makes 56 from urban locations. On the rural front, 18 readers come from villages with 5K+ population; 21 and therefore the most, come from 1k to 5K populated villages. Only five come from villages with below 1K population.
Print saw its best growth of readers during 2005-11 not from the metro towns, but 5K+ populated villages in India, where it has recruited 32.58 lakh new readers. Currently it has a 3.21 crore readers base here. Top eight metro towns have added 7 per cent new readers (19.39 lakh) in the same period and currently has 2.8 crore readers’ base here. That said, it is an interesting observation that print has been able to reach only 41 per cent population base here. Mini-metros have added 17 per cent (29.41 lakh) to their tally in this period and has 1.99 crore readers as of today. Print still has a huge area left here too, as it reaches out to only 44 per cent population base. The 5 lakh-10 lakh populated town segment has registered a growth of 12 per cent (11.33 lakh) and currently has 1.09 crore reader base. It reaches out to 40 per cent of the population base here.
The biggest bulk of the reader base comes from 1K-5K population villages where it has 3.8 crore readers as of now. However, it has lost about 8 per cent of its readers in the last six years. Similarly, even in the villages with population less than 1K, print media has lost by 4 per cent of its readers.
Print is class-wise too: Print media has improved its hold on the top socio-economic classes of both urban and rural India, while it has also shed readers in the bottom rung. Print had a reach of 24.6 per cent in SEC A&B, which has gone up to 27.8 per cent. In D&E classes, it had a share of 16.1 per cent readers, which is now down to 14.8 per cent. Similarly, in top rural socio-economic class of R1/R2 it had a share of 16.9 per cent in 2005, which has now risen to 21.4 per cent. And in the bottom strata of R3/R4, it has slipped from 29 per cent to 22.8 per cent.
In the top strata of SEC ABC, print has added 75.46 lakh readers over the 2005 count. Today, it has a total reader base of 7.37 crore readers in this segment. Similarly, in the top rural strata of R1/R2, print has added 90.68 lakh new readers over the 2005 tally and today, it has a count of 4.11 crore readers in this cluster.
Print reader’s exposure to other media options: Print reader has been hobnobbing more now with TV than before. In 2005, 69.7 per cent of print readers were exposed to TV on all seven days of a week. Today, this count has gone up to 79.2 per cent. However, print media readers are now less exposed to cinema and radio.
Previously 9.9 per cent of the print readers went to the cinema once a month. Today, only 5.9 per cent of the readers visit cinema. Previously, 24.7 per cent of print readers also listened to radio on all seven days of the week. Today, this count is down to 21.1 per cent.
Internet has phenomenally grown in recent times and it shows on print readers too. In 2005, only 1.3 per cent of the print media readers accessed Internet frequently. Today, 4.7 per cent of the total print media readers are accessing the Internet.
(AS Raghunath is a Consultant with Sakshi Telugu.)