Despite being big business, mainstream magazines have witnessed a consistent readership decline for some time now. The NRS 2006 findings are no different. Also, NRSC has decided to withhold India Today (Hindi)’s figures for revalidation, making Saras Salil the No. 1 player with a readership of 7,139,000. India Today (English) retained its No. 2 position.
Sam Balsara, Chairman, NRSC, explained, “This is the first time that we have exercised our right to withhold the data of a particular publication. We felt that there was a need to re-visit the numbers of India Today (Hindi) and we will be back with these numbers soon.”
It may be recalled that, NRSC had decided to hold back the readership numbers of Malayalam publications on similar grounds in NRS 2005, which were subsequently released three months later.
India Today (English), while staying at the No. 2 position, saw its readership drop from 6,295,000 to 5,150,000 in NRS 2006. Vanitha (Malayalam) has done quite well, moving from No. 8 in NRS 2005 to No. 3 this year, with its readership increasing from 3,832,000 to 4,115,000. Grihashobha, too, has moved up from No. 6 last year to No. 4, and this despite its readership dropping from 4,121,000 to 3,788,000 in NRS 2006.
Kumudam’s readership has dropped 4,675,000 to 3,698,000 in NRS 2006, taking it to the fifth spot. Kungmum at No. 6, too, has seen a fall in its readership – from 5,600,000 in NRS 2005 to 3,347,000. Swati Sap Vara Pat (3,408,000) at No. 7, Sarita (2,820,000) at No. 8, Meri Saheli (2,610,000) at No. 9, and Balarama (2,526,000) at No. 10 complete the top ten for magazines in the absence of India Today (Hindi).
In all, magazines have seen a fall in readership. NRS 2006 shows that while dailies continued to grow, adding 12.6 million readers from last year to reach 203.6 million, there has been a drop of 7.1 million magazine readers.
N D Badrinath, Director, Client Services, ACNielsen, said, “It must, however, be remembered that this refers only to mainstream magazines. A host of niche titles that continue to be launched regularly are not fielded and their collective readership estimate is outside the purview of the study.”
He admitted that at present, fragmentation in magazines was the clear trend and that the Indian market could see a future like other evolved markets, with multiple specialist players replacing general interest magazines. He said, “The critical mass is not of the nature where we can measure this fragmentation, but everything else about the statistics point in that direction.”
Badrinath reiterated that focussed reading or niche-magazines was a clear emerging habit. The fact that 100+ magazines have been launched in India within the last two years, which is an average of four per month, shows that the niche category is growing.
Drawing a comparison with the US market, he said, “Magazines of every genre are being launched – from architecture to food to photography to auto to elecronics to ayurveda and so on. Even when we look at the time spent parameter closely, general Interest magazines are on the downslide, while special interest magazines have encouraging numbers to show.”
Even as Badrinath reiterated the clear and present danger that he saw mainstream media to be in, he was also of the opinion that the Indian publisher had seen it already. He pointed out, “If you look at someone as established as the India Today group itself – they are launching niche titles and have acquired the rights to many international titles that they would be releasing in the market at opportune times. The Indian publisher has realised the importance of targeted content and is preparing himself for it.”
On a closer look, NRS 2006 interestingly does indicate that there is still significant scope for growth. The data shows that today as many as 359 million people who can read and understand any language do not read any publication. Of this 359 million, 68 per cent read Hindi. It is not just affordability that is a constraint, since 20 million of these literate non-readers belong to the upscale SEC A and B segments.
That said, magazines overall have shown a decline in reader base, both in urban and rural India. The reach of magazines has declined from 75 million in 2005 to 68 million in 2006. Magazines have lost 12 per cent of their reach since 2005. Introspection time continues for players in the genre.