For long, language newspapers have been living in the shadow of the English papers, a fact emphatically pointed out by the panel on ‘The Future Lies in the Languages’. The session dwelled on what ails language dailies and how they can be at par with the English dailies when it came to grabbing a lion’s share of the advertising revenue pie.
Moderating the session was Bharat Kapadia, Director, Lokmat Group, while the panelists included KRP Reddy, Director - Marketing, Sakshi Telugu Daily; Ranjeet Kate, Director, Maharashtra Times and Navbharat Times; Shripad Kulkarni, CEO, Allied Media; and Pradyuman Maheshwari, Group Editor, exchange4media.
The session began with Bharat Kapadia making a case for language dailies and lamenting the fact that they were considered the poor second cousins of the English papers. He was also against dubbing language dailies as ‘vernacular’, saying that the term was derogatory and meant ‘language of the slaves’. He also criticised the fact that 60 per cent of the advertising revenues from marketers went to the English press.
KRP Reddy affirmed, “I have no doubt that future lies in the language newspaper industry. English is read or understood by very few people. Out of a base 8,235 crore, only around 3 crore read English. Growing literacy in the countryside is seeing a larger number of people reading newspapers in languages other than English. Another thing is that even language newspaper readers are at par with their English counterparts. A language newspaper reader is now elevated to a different level. If you see the growth of this part of the newspaper industry, it is huge. Now we have e-paper in almost all languages. But in the advertising part, we face problems. Particularly for a new brand like Sakshi, looking at advertising revenues, marketers often ask about IRS, numbers and that if we will give them a full page. At present, we have a very large category of retail advertising, greetings, retirement. We have 25 per cent coming from retail advertising.”
Emphasising on four characteristics of the language newspaper industry, Ranjeet Kate said, “These are – more eyeballs, deeper engagement with readers, higher share of circulation revenue, and language dailies dominating outside the metros. The shift is happening now, which many thought would happen later. Looking at the share prices of big two companies – HT and Dainik Jagran – the latter is moving ahead. There are significant private equity interests in language dailies now. Companies like media or marketing clients are watching this. But despite this, there are problems faced by publishers.”
Pradyuman Maheshwari observed, “All of us have a colonial bias. We watch Hindi movies, but as far as our beliefs are concerned, they are still colonial. The real India is not in metros but elsewhere. It is condescending to call regional media as vernacular. Part of the problem is also the treatment by media owners. Because proprietors spend a fair amount of money in raising the standard of the editorial content, it is heartening to note that proprietors are spending that amount of money.”
He also wondered whether the media agencies actually knew who their target audiences were when they went about their research studies.
According to Shripad Kulkarni, “India is too large a country. As one moves ahead, one needs to span the depth (metros) and breadth (non metros) of the country. We need to keep in mind that India is going to be the second largest English speaking country. The smaller market and middle classes are already captured by TV. Some of the TV channels are far more market savvy. All these mean that the language newspapers will have to work all that harder.”