7th APRIL 2015 - Vol.XXXVIII No.018
Business News

Newspaper industry is booming...

NEW DELHI: When India hosted the World Newspaper Congress last year, Indian editors and owners were a conspicuously cheerful minority at a gathering dominated by doubts over the future of newsprint.

While many papers in industrialised nations have been laying off staff or folding in the face of freefalling circulation figures and competition from Internet news and television, the printed Press in India is booming.

A fast-expanding economy, mushrooming advertising budgets, rising disposable income and, above all, increasing literacy rates have fuelled a newspaper renaissance, with new titles and fatter editions appearing by the month.

Since 2005 the number of paid-for daily newspaper titles in India has grown by 44 per cent to 2,700, according to the "World Press Trends 2010" survey published by the World Association of Newspapers (WAN-IFRA).

That makes it the world leader ahead of the US with 1,397 titles and China with 1,000.

India also has the world's highest paid-for daily circulation, having surpassed China for the first time in 2008.

"What we have is education levels and purchasing power improving - there's a hunger among Indians to know," Bhaskar Rao, director of New Delhi's Centre for Media Studies, said.

Indian newspapers are also incredibly cheap, with revenue driven by advertising rather than sales.

Most have a cover price of less than four rupees (eight US cents), allowing many households to subscribe to more than one daily.

The market liberalisation of the early 1990s triggered the rapid expansion of an Indian middle class that was hungry for information and represented a boom in potential consumers as well as newspaper readers.

India boasts the world's largest English-language newspaper in The Times of India, with a circulation of around 4m and a well-educated, affluent readership that allows it to charge ad rates more than 10 times those of Hindi and other language publications.

In recent years, newspaper growth has been fuelled by increasing literacy which has opened up more markets apart from the wealthy but numerically limited urban middle-class.

According to government estimates, only 35pc of Indians could read in 1976. The current literacy level is almost twice that and youth literacy stands at around 82pc, meaning a massive pool of future readers. The clearest sign of this broadening appeal is the ascendance of the non-English Press. Circulation of Hindi newspapers, for example, has risen from less than 8m in the early 1990s to more than 25m in 2009.

In readership terms English-language newspapers are absent from the top 10 where Hindi titles, led by the 55m readership Dainik Jagran, take the top four spots, according the WAN-IFRA survey.

They are followed by Tamil, Marathi, Bengali and Telugu titles, and it's not until 11th place is reached that The Times of India pops up with 13.3m readers.

While such numbers are enough to make a Western newspaper owner weep with envy, the statistic that really stands out is that, in a country of 1.2 billion people, only around 200m people read a newspaper every day.

"That means fundamentally there are still 800m to 900m people waiting to start engaging with newspapers," said Tarun Tejpal, editor of the investigative weekly Tehelka, who aims to launch a new financial paper before the end of the year.

"That's why there is so much bullishness about newspapers and people believe there'll be traction for newspapers for years to come," he said.

For the moment, Indian newspapers are not struggling with the same competition from the Internet that has been partly blamed for falling circulation in developed countries.

"Increasing literacy is creating more demand, but many don't have access to the Internet so they're turning to newspapers," said PriceWaterhouse media consultant Timmy Kandhari.

click on image to view the digital edition