Wednesday, February 09, 2011

A Decade of Print media boom in India: English newspapers grow, more magazines launched, rise in circulation

The spectacular growth of newspapers in India in the first decade of 21st century is perhaps the most gladdening and surprising story for media world.

Particularly, because the phenomenon was witnessed when America and Europe witnessed drastic fall in readership and several newspapers stopped print editions to switch to just online versions.

As I look back I can feel how newspapers and magazine have grown in the country. Ten years ago there were few papers and just a couple of standard magazines.

Until 2000, the newspaper industry appeared saturated and no new players were emerging. Perhaps the only exception was Times of India that was growing exponentially. It was no different for the regional language media either.

But the situation has changed dramatically in the decade 2001-2010. New mass circulated daily newspapers emerged on the scene and established newspapers also grew. Besides, more magazines are now available than ever.
I remember that till 2000, there were few options. Now if I go to a book stand, I return with a fresh issue of a news magazine almost everyday.

While India Today and Outlook somewhat retain their circulation, its rival The Week has grown significantly in the last couple of years.

The circulation of magazines may not have increased dramatically but the overall reach and their impact has gone up. In terms of special and investigative stories The Week, and of course Tehelka, have consistently scored over India Today. Among the major positive changes, which I can recall, that occurred in this decade include:

A Decade of Print Media Boom in India

1. A new daily newspaper DNA--Daily News Analysis--was launched from several cities
2. India Today group's daily newspaper Mail Today gives competition to HT, TOI in Delhi
3. Hindustan Times starts Mumbai edition staking the claim to be a TOI rival at the national level
4. Express groups' New Indian Express holds fort in South India and grows
5. Deccan Chronicle expands
6. New financial daily, Mint, makes its mark and now has multiple editions across the country
7. TOI goes down South and becomes a pan-Indian newspaper
8. Tehelka, first as weekly paper and later in magazine format, makes a mark
9. Open magazine launched. Another option to readers after India Today, Outlook, The Week and Frontline
10. MJ Akbar's Covert is launched but when it closes down, he launches The Sunday Guardian weekly. Another magazine The Sunday Indian is launched. Though Arindam Chaudhuri's magazine isn't often discussed much, its editions in 13 languages can't be discounted.

The circulation of newspapers continue to grow. While industry pundits predicted doom for print media, they forgot that in India, there is almost 40% population that is yet to achieve basic literacy.

Besides, the aspirational lower-middle class and middle class reader often graduates from vernacular to English media for a variety of reasons and this process will continue for at least next 30-40 years.

In India revenues aren't drying up as the TV channels have reached their optimum in terms of advertising revenues. However, newspaper remain a major source for information and the classified advertisements continue to grow and fetch returns.

Rising Regional press: Hindi, Urdu newspapers, vernacular media expand

The trend was not restricted to English media. Hindi newspapers also witnessed a rise in circulation. While Punjab Kesri declined, the three major papers--Dainik Jagran, Hindustan and Dainik Bhaskar--kept growing fast and are selling in millions.
New dailies were successfully launched. Papers like Hari Bhumi and Prabhat Khabar started publishing from new editions while Rajasthan Patrika and Hindustan went for expansion on a massive scale. Patrika went down South and even up to West Bengal.

The soaring circulations in Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh and Chhattisgarh forced papers to launch separate pull outs for districts and pages for small cities and towns.

While New York Times and Boston Globe had a tough time continuing their print editions, in India regional dailies are selling in millions [tens of lakhs] and the readership is in crores and is rising steadily. Defying global trends and negative predictions, the Indian akhbar survives. This is the reason the decade 2001-2010 would go down as an important period in Indian print industry.

The rise of Urdu media: Five channels, multi-edition dailies

Urdu media also grew exponentially. The Sahara group' Roznama Sahara is now published from across the length and breadth of country. Another daily Sahafat expanded from Lucknow and is now published from Dehradun, Delhi, Mumbai et al.

The launch of high standard magazines like Bazm, weekly Chauthi Duniya and Urdu version of The Sunday Indian were among other important events. While Siasat, Munsif and Inquilab remain leaders, the daily Etemaad was launched in Hyderabad and it is also a successful paper.

New daily newspapers including Hamara Samaj, Hindustan Express and the recent launch of Jadeed Khabar are forcing the old and existing Urdu papers to compete, look for special stories and work hard to improve themselves.

Following ETV, the launch of DD Urdu, Zee Salaam, Alami Sahara and the recent launch of Munsif TV gave a filip to Urdu media in India. In fact, it was a sort of fairy tale story for Urdu media in this decade. The newspapers were in a bad shape and magazines were on the decline till 2000.

But the situation has changed so much that even the most optimistic person wouldn't have dreamt about. I am not much familiar with language media in other states but there are new success stories of Telugu newspapers, Malayam, Tamil, Bengali and some other regions.

Clearly, it was a decade of media revolution and revival in India. As far as standards of journalism, the trivialization of news, the India TV phenomenon and the focus on Bollywood gossip, I think that's enough material for another writeup.