Indian language newspapers have to battle several challenges in a market skewed towards English papers. Even as the base in India is more towards the vernacular, English papers manage to bag a chunk of the advertisers’ money. In a bid to address this and various other issues related to Indian language newspapers, ‘impact’, the advertising weekly from the exchange4media Group, had recently organised a Roundtable in Mumbai on September 30.
The theme for the Roundtable was ‘Can Indian language newspapers deliver better than the English media, and the role of Indian language newspapers in the media plan’. The impact Roundtable on Language Newspapers was presented by Prahar.
The discussion was moderated by Loksatta Editor Kumar Ketkar, while the panellists included Varghese Chandy, Senior General Manager - Operations, Malayala Manorama; Jwalant Swaroop, Director, Lokmat Group of Newspapers; Abhay Desai, CEO, Yuva; Nilesh Rane, Director, Rane Prakashan Pvt Ltd; K Ramakrishnan, GM, Marketing, TVS Motors; Divya Radhakrishnan, President, TME; Sanjoy Chakrabarty, COO, Dentsu Media; and Sundeep Nagpal, Director, Stratagem Media.
Commencing the discussion, Ketkar presented a brief overview of Indian language newspapers. He noted that while economic liberalisation had changed the scenario in India completely, the ‘attitude’ towards language media had not changed much.
“Everybody has a certain reservation about language media. Language media represents the common people, while English media represents the so-called intellectual elite, who decide on policies, national issues and fundamental economic policies,” Ketkar added.
Citing an example, he said, “At one point of time, The Times of India and Maharashtra Times were both priced at Rs 2.50. However, TOI gave 24 pages, while Maharashtra Times gave only 10 pages. Hence, with so much difference in pagination, naturally the bilingual families in most metropolitan cities preferred to buy English newspapers. With the middle class families across the country sending their children to English medium school, every family is becoming bilingual. As a result, people are opting for the English language.”
Language newspapers battling negative perceptions
Varghese Chandy pointed out, “Many people still consider language newspapers as vernacular newspapers. It is basically because of the mindset of the people and the perception they have towards language newspapers. The definition says that vernacular is an unofficial language spoken by group by people, and according to me, this unofficial language is English. So, I think English has become a vernacular language in our country. Vernacular also means vulgar.”
According to Abhay Desai, the entire obsession came from the culture that we were living in. “Nowadays, every other person wants their child to learn English. Everywhere there is English, and the same is seen while media planners and buyers do their media planning. Data shows that the masses do advertise in language press and the numbers support this. Therefore, I think the current situation is purely because the media planner, who comes from an English academic background, thinks English press is elite to reach to the masses as compared to language press,” he added.
Divya Radhakrishnan felt that it was not in the hands of media planners or media buyers. He said, “Qualified judgements are made during media planning. More importantly, we have been trained to think media neutral. Then, why we are saying English newspapers and language newspapers? Why such a differentiation and discrimination? If my product is being used by consumers through the advertisement done using a particular medium, then it is fair enough to be there. I am interested only in chasing my consumer wherever they go, whether in malls or the loo, it is completely about being media neutral.”
Agreeing with her, Sanjoy Chakrabarty said, “If am interesting in selling 100 digital cameras and 100 cakes of Nirma, first I will list down the five top newspapers, and whichever is the highest, I will go with that, whether it is language press or English newspapers. Ultimately my objective is to sell 100 cameras, and if that gets fulfilled, my purpose is solved, which will make my client happy.”
He further said, “Somehow, English newspapers corner the larger chunk of media money. About 60-65 per cent of the money go towards the English newspapers.”
Jwalant Swaroop opined, “English press has a restriction, it will reach one level and then cease to grow. It is a market where consumers can speak well languages other than English. Language newspapers have been able to garner growth over the years as the market is emerging. The language newspapers market is showing potential and if investments are made, it will surely yield good results.”
He further said that the metros were overexposed and that growth was actually coming from language publications. “Whenever there is something on a huge scale, it is the small towns that the marketer runs to because that is where the consumer stays,” Swaroop noted.
Giving the advertiser’s point of view, K Ramakrishnan said, “As a user and advertiser, I would like to look at how many people are reading, who is reading and can I reach them if I put my message in that paper. In city like Mumbai and Delhi, language publication readership outnumbers English readership. But outside these two cities, there is no debate at all between these two.”
Speaking on English language, Radhakrishnan said, “We have to accept that English is the language of corporate communication.”
Elaborating overall, Ketkar said, “We are talking here about the middle class, who can be divided into three layers. First is an established middle class, who has everything; second is the new middle class, who just entered in this particular class, having the ability to buy things; and the third is the aspirational middle class.”
“Now unfortunately, the aspirational middle class has not been adequately recognised by media planners or media agencies. They have to realise that the aspirational middle class is not only current but also the future market. Therefore, there is a vast market of middle class, which is essentially in language newspapers not in English newspapers. Only 15 per cent of the middle class can speak, read and write in English. And when we say 64 per cent goes to English newspapers, we forget that out of the 64 per cent, 54 per cent goes only to one publication, which is The Times of India. As a result, there is a complete imbalance of the message going off to a vast new consumer who is divided into different layers and the message often gets wasted with the wrong medium chosen for a product,” Ketkar concluded.