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IRS 2006 R1 and the case of the disappearing reader

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IRS 2006 R1 and the case of the disappearing reader

Whether it is English, Hindi, Malayalam, Tamil or Telugu, the Indian Readership Survey (IRS) 2006 has shown a decline in readership for almost all publications and largely even across markets. Industry leaders offered mixed reactions to the finding – where ‘India Today’ is flabbergast, ‘Outlook’ is perplexed, and media professionals try and give a rationale, saying that the days of borrowed readership are going.

‘The Hindu’, ‘Deccan Chronicle’ and ‘Tribune’ are the only English dailies to have registered growth. ‘Amar Ujala’, ‘Hindustan’ and ‘Rajasthan Patrika’ have managed to defy the decline trend in Hindi dailies. ‘Dinamalar’, ‘Deshabhimani’ and ‘Andhra Jyoti’ are the exceptions for Tamil, Malayalam and Telugu dailies, respectively.

Magazines have far lesser success cases. A point to ponder is what has led to this decline in readership for almost every player.

With IRS releasing only towards to end of last week, not many players offered comments on why they think there has been a readership loss. Maheshwar Peri, Publisher, Outlook Group, put it in so many words when he said, “The NRS (National Readership Survey) saw us grow by 60 per cent and our circulation has gone up by 5-6 per cent in the period since. I need to look at the data more closely to understand why there has been a decline in our readership.”

While on the one hand that is what one section of the industry chooses to express, Ashish Bagga, CEO, India Today Group, and President, Indian Newspapers Society (INS), on the other hand, voices a completely different set of reactions. “There seems to be something seriously wrong with the IRS survey,” he said.

Citing data, he further asked, “How can such huge chunks of readers disappear just like that in a period of six months? Especially for subscription driven magazines like ‘India Today’ English and ‘Reader’s Digest’, which show a loss of 3.9 lakh and 3.3 lakh readers, respectively. In fact, magazines across the board have been hit badly, in some cases registering huge losses of up to 23 per cent. How do you explain a 20 per cent fall in Femina’s readership in just six months or regional language magazines for that matter?”

Speaking specifically about the India Today Group, Bagga’s observation was the same as Peri’s when he said, “If you were to look at circulation, sales have been at an all time high for Living Media magazine brands in the past six to eight months; how does one explain the fall in readership? Strange isn’t it? This IRS survey has inherent flaws and should not be relied on.”

Bagga sure is looking for some explanation for the declining readership expressing shock on even business publications showing a downslide despite the business environment in India per se experiencing bullish trends and buoyancy. “It’s shocking to see that all the three business magazines have lost readers,” he exclaimed.

Yet another set of views come from media experts who try and explain the loss. Manish Porwal, Executive Director, Starcom (West), said, “Interestingly, the circulations of each one of these publications is increasing. The deductions are simple. More people are buying their own personal copy and borrowing less. Within a family, too, more people are reading their ‘own’ choice of publication.”

Commenting on English publications, Porwal said, “With the choice in English readership markets – most metros, led by Mumbai – increasing, readership is growing, but is getting fragmented between more dailies. Having said this, we must not forget that over a long period in time, both readership and reach of media has not declined.”

Kunal Jamuar, Business Director, Insight, added, “Mass media consumption per se is going down and the players will have to find a way to use the various opportunities present today to increase the time spent on it.”

For IRS, it is a quite a baggage of mixed reactions and as they say, it isn’t over till it’s over. Many in the industry are still taking their time in analysing data to understand the dipping numbers and we can only wait and watch what answers they will throw up.


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