The IRS 2011 Q2 results highlighted a trend, in most cases, that is a worrying sign for publication houses – fall in readership. This topic has been debated at most forums as to whether newspapers are losing relevance for the youth. On the flip side, the question is whether newspapers are marketing themselves adequately to showcase their offerings, across the board, to the new generation of readers.
DD Purkayastha, Managing Director & CEO, ABP Pvt Ltd, has an interesting analysis to share. He said, “I was trying to find a correlation between newspaper readership and literate population growth. I came across some interesting findings. The readership CAGR of 10 leading English dailies over the last three years is 2.4 per cent and the same for 10 leading regional dailies is 2.7 per cent. Interestingly, the literate population CAGR between 2001 and 2011 is also 2.7 per cent (Source: IRS and Census). This indicates that the industry has just been keeping pace with the literate population growth. The industry has not taken any significant initiatives to inform or, more importantly, engage readers to take readership CAGR higher.
While many newspaper brands take up campaigns and other brand building exercises to strengthen their position, not many are actually taking their product to the youth or looking for ways to customise it to capture the attention of the new generation. With the easy availability of news, opinions, and extensive matter relating to specific subjects on the web, this has become a greater challenge for newspapers.
According to Earl J Wilkinson, Executive Director and CEO, INMA, “The biggest difference between the Indian market leaders and newspapers abroad is that the Indian publishers invest in marketing and building their news brands. As costs come under tighter and tighter scrutiny, I suggest never cutting the pipeline to readers. It’s not enough to produce a product and throw it on the proverbial street. You have to tell people what you’re creating, create it, and then tell them what they created. We’re battling for attention spans, and marketing is crucial for this.”
Most newspapers advertise aggressively across the board – in sister publications/ TV channels, OOH, through partnerships with websites or display ads. Dr Bhaskar Das, President, The Times Group, observed, “All big newspapers, the market leaders are very active – their marketing strategies are agile, innovative, and aggressive. Companies that are coming out with quality brand promotions are Jagran Group, Dainik Bhaskar group, The Times of India, and Hindustan Times. I have seen Jagran ads in the Indian edition of Harvard Business Review. However, it is important that promotions are done in a sustained manner.”
Another commonly held view is that English newspapers are more aggressive in their marketing initiatives than regional publications. “Even if this has happened in the past, maybe due to economic conditions or non-metro penetration of regional languages, it is not the case now. In fact, regional language papers are equally aggressive. Their growth is better now that English newspapers, though at a lower level. Over the last 5-10 years, they have been displaying innovation, aggressiveness, and marketing sharpness,” remarked Dr Das.
According to Wilkinson, the consistently best marketed newspapers – from brand-building to driving eyeballs and sales – were The New York Times in the US, Dagens Nyheter in Sweden, South China Morning Post in Hong Kong, and The Times of India. He added, “Statistically speaking, the bigger newspapers tend to have stand-out marketing because of budget. The ones that do best are those that consistently market their brands at a high level.”
In Purkayastha’s view, Hindustan, Lokmat, and Malayala Manorama seemed to have done a little better in engaging with readers. “It is not a question of who did better amongst English and regional newspapers. Reader engagement is linked to market dynamics. The marketing initiatives are more when the competitive pressure is high.”