Wanderlust…

The International Reporting (and Life) Adventures of Vivian Salama

Look out below, Indian press rolling

Posted by vmsalama on September 20, 2008

Vivian Salama

The National | September 20. 2008 5:26PM GMT

MUMBAI // At a time when mature media markets are reducing the size of their operations and laying off hundreds of employees, India’s print media is growing at a steady rate, offering better salaries and more job opportunities. But some industry experts caution that India’s largest media conglomerate, Bennett, Coleman and Co, the owner of The Times of India, is wooing advertising revenues away from other newspapers, impairing their quality and growth rate.

According to media experts, 65 per cent of advertising revenue is cornered by the Times of India Group, forcing other publications to fight for their survival. While Indian newspapers are the cheapest in the world, many publishers have instituted price increases to neutralise the impact of soaring newsprint costs.

Many publishers are also postponing expansion plans, while some are increasing advertising tariffs to offset the higher costs. Metro Now, an English-language newspaper in Delhi, and The Times of India have delayed expansion plans in recent months, while the Business Standard has shut down its newly launched an edition in Rajkot city.

“For any other newspaper to survive, they have to depend on very aggressive marketing and diversification of their media platforms,” said Sanjay Ranade, the head of the communication and journalism department at the University of Mumbai. 

“This impacts the indigenous newspapers the most because with the rising literacy, rising political awareness and rising purchasing power, the demand for indigenous newspapers is going up, but revenues are not going up.”

A report released in July by GroupM, the media-buying arm of WPP Group, said the Indian media would witness 20 per cent growth this year and advertisers would continue to give priority to newspapers and television. India’s newspaper advertising market increased 18 per cent last year.

According to the World Association of Newspapers, 60 of the world’s 100 top-selling dailies are published in Asia, with the sheer population numbers undoubtedly giving it a boost. In China, more than 98 million copies of newspapers were sold every day last year followed by India, with more than 88 million, and Japan with 69 million. In comparison, the US sold only 53 million copies every day and Germany 21 million copies. All of India’s newspapers are privately owned.

“Business is booming and I think there is a lot of hunger to have that [kind of] analysis,” said S Mitra Kalita, the national editor at Mint, a New Delhi business newspaper published by India’s HT Media in association with The Wall Street Journal. “India is so competitive now and as a new product, we want people to read us so we have to redefine the standards of the industry in terms of accuracy and quality.”

The print media continues to attract the largest share of media advertising in India, mainly as a result of the rise of the tabloid and increased regional focus. The Times of India is the largest English-language newspaper, with an average daily distribution of 2.14 million copies. According to the 2006 National Readership Study, the Dainik Jagran is the most widely  circulated Hindi-language newspaper, with 21.2 million readers. 

“We are growing and moving to proper corporatisation of newspapers,” said Mr Ranade of the University of Mumbai. “The Indian reporters are getting more money than before and we will see the industry become more commercial and corporate in the next seven years.”

With advertising revenue being focused on English-language newspapers, most experts agree that there is no chance of any local-language newspapers overtaking the industry. 

“English is the future of this country for the media, and especially for magazines, which are picked up mainly by English speakers,” said Sandipan Singh, the chief operating officer for Images Group, which publishes nearly a dozen industry magazines, mostly in English.

As with many newspapers in the West, Indian newspapers are faced with the challenge of offering a product that positions them as a favourable alternative to the new media boom, and some experts say the incorporation of new media is absolutely imperative for the survival of the newspaper industry.

“Unless they diversify into other media, where advanced literacy is not necessary, then their survival is in jeopardy,” Mr Ranade said. “Newspapers in indigenous languages are turning to other platforms, be it online and satellite networks, but they have to step up these efforts if they want to survive.”

Ms Kalita agreed: “We’ve integrated on the web, reporters blog, I blog, everybody blogs,” she said. “It’s so much more ingrained into multitasking and there is definitely the same shift in readership that has affected the US.”

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