Is regional really the new national for print media?

Even as major publishers are going regional in a big way, the IRS presents a different picture with regional dailies seeing decline in the last four quarters

e4m by Abid Hasan
Published: Apr 9, 2013 11:05 PM  | 5 min read
Is regional really the new national for print media?

The phrase, ‘Regional is the new national’, has been in vogue for the last one year, especially in reference to print media. The phrase was used by Varghese Chandy, Chief General Manager, Malayala Manorama at a conference in New Delhi last year.

With the metros and larger cities increasingly witnessing intense competition, marketers, advertisers and publishers are either trying to consolidate their presence in the regional markets or creating a window for themselves. The process of expansion and consolidation has been happening since the last couple of years and states such as Maharashtra, Kerala, West Bengal, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu have seen several major players enter the market.

However, as per data from the Indian Readership Survey (IRS) for the last four quarters, there has been an average decline in readership of regional dailies. In fact, six out of the top 10 regional dailies have seen decline in average issue readership (AIR) as per the IRS 2013 Q4 data, while four have seen marginal growth.

Satyajit Sen, CEO India, ZenithOptimedia remarked, “Data seems to suggest that there has been reduction in readership across newspapers across pop strata, the trend continues across lower pop strata.”

Regional print is faced with a situation where it is growing on the revenue side, but not on the readership side. There are multiple reasons for this degrowth, firstly, inflation is at an all time high across the hinterland. Hence, people who had moved to reading newspapers regularly in the recent past owing to increased affordability may have started lapsing again. Moreover, newspapers have been able to push in more pricing-led interventions in the past to get more readers. Given the margin squeeze across the industry, the promotional incentives for readers might have been modified, leading to a drop in readers.

Sen said, “We need to explore that this drop in readership is not induced owing to reduced secondary sale of newspapers to readers and that the same could be triggered by reduction in advertising volumes as well as subscription revenues.”

According to him, newspapers need to engage with readers apart from the usual initiatives. “Probably subscription initiatives will be the key,” Sen added.

On a different note, Mausumi Kar, GM, Maxus Global commented, “The time has come to question the concept of ‘readership’. The definition needs to move beyond the narrow confines of ‘format’. When we say readers, we specifically conjure up the image of a newspaper. Readers are consuming their newspaper content on the digital medium - mobile phones, tablets and laptops. This is not limited to the English press alone. Large regional players have enviable readership base on the digital medium. Technology, rather than language, will decide whether a print player will be seen as national or regional contender. Technology is what will also give a fresh revenue stream to print players.”

Publishers face challenges that are largely around enhancing their readership in a sustained manner and delivering higher quality content, views and analysis. From an advertiser perspective, they need to support their marketing efforts by continuing to focus on innovation and segment-specific targeting, thereby driving optimal return on their investment as well as ensuring higher brand salience and product proliferation for them.

Sharing his thought on the topic, Girish Agarwal, Promoter-Director, DB Corp said, “This is an interesting thought for many and a reality for us, as it mirrors our group’s approach. Deeply entrenched is our belief in the potential and explosion of opportunities in Tier II and III cities and rural markets, which are driving economic growth. We recognised this well ahead of time and today are the non-metro urban solution for all the marketers and brands that are recalibrating their strategies to harness this huge potential, now within their reach with improvement in infrastructure, higher aspirations, new evolved lifestyle, enhanced literacy and media explosion. Dainik Bhaskar is in real time sync with it. Our leadership strengths and competitive advantages are aligned to harness this potential and act as the gateway to large local consumer reach in these markets.”

“It is the quality of readership and concentration that really matters to marketers,” said Pradeep Dwivedi, Chief Corporate Sales & Marketing Officer, Dainik Bhaskar. “As readers become more sophisticated in their understanding and demands of editorial content, they also move up the value chain as a consumer of various products and services. Regional is the new national in terms of consumer spend propensity and hence, attention of marketers. As metro markets saturate with hyper competition, it is really the Tier II and III cities that are offering sustainable avenues of growth and market expansion for most corporate,” he added.

When pointed out that regional is growing only in terms of revenue, Dwivedi remarked, “It is a fair assessment and is reflective of the demographic shift in both income and consumption patterns in our rapidly evolving economy.”

Malayala Manorama’s Chandy noted that regional has been ignored by advertisers for a very long time. “But now it they are realising that regional can’t be covered by other languages, besides television channels are also not giving maximum satisfaction to advertisers such as HUL and ITC, hence, they are turning towards regional,” he added. Chandy further said that readership is declining because people are spending more time in other places and are indulging in other activities.

According to Kajal Malik, VP, Brand Solutions, Sakal, said, “Sheer launches of regional and other players in new markets give them newer territories and also the potential of small towns. Thus, regional print is attracting the attention of national marketers.”

In order to enhance the regional publications, there is need to continue to expand base with growing literacy in lower pop strata and rural markets, increase literacy and encourage the acceptance of these dailies.

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