December 2006, when i next, the experimental compact bilingual daily from the Jagran Prakashan Group, was launched in Lucknow and Kanpur, the obvious question for afaqs! to ask was - why start with these two cities? The answer was that Kanpur was Jagran's home town and it was easy to experiment with a different kind of product there and gauge the readers' response.
Since then, the paper has launched four more editions in Uttar Pradesh - Meerut, Agra, Varanasi and Allahabad - and one in Uttarakhand - in Dehradun. Yesterday, the group took the paper beyond its bastion and entered Bihar with its Patna edition. The print run for the daily on day one, according to project head and editor Alok Sanwal, "was 83,500 copies and 96 per cent of the copies were picked up". The paper is being given out free for the first six days so that readers can try out the product.
He says the experiment has been successful so far. The Kanpur edition, according to him, has a circulation of 75,000 copies, a growth of about 5,000 copies in the last two months.
The paper, which was primarily targeted at the youth, in the age group of 18-25 years, has been received well by 25+ women, too. "For these two segments, i next has become the primary paper," says Sanwal. However, it's the men in the 25-40 years' age group "who've taken up i next as an alternative reading opportunity".
"This male segment has grown up reading a broadsheet and has certain expectations from a newspaper. Our survey shows that they are uncomfortable with large pictures and the new style (the mix of Devnagri and Roman scripts). It'll take us about two to three years to break this mindset," he says.
Amongst the men for whom i next is an alternative read, 80 per cent are hardcore Hindi daily readers and 20 per cent read both English and Hindi newspapers.
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As for Patna, "these are initial days, and brands like TVS and Titan have shown interest in advertising with us", he adds.
i next has gone to Patna with another innovation: It carries no political news. "Even campus news in Patna cannot be without politics. So, it's a challenge. All Hindi dailies in the Hindi heartland cover political news in depth. Our target audience is not much interested in political news. We want to focus on more vital news like social issues, developmental issues and societal changes," says Sanwal.
But will this formula succeed? Sanwal isn't sure. "We may not succeed two months down the line, but this is the stand we have taken right now."
i next did an extensive pre-launch campaign in Patna, which included road shows, hoardings, pamphlets in other dailies and advertisements through the group's main newspaper, Dainik Jagran. The catchline for the campaign was: 'Badalte Patna ki Nai Dhadkan'.
"In the recent past, Patna has shown a lot of change and improvement in the law and order situation. Where shops used to close at 8.30pm, now they close around 10pm. People are dining out late these days," Sanwal says, explaining the catchline.
As part of the post-launch promotion, a Bollywood movie will be premièred in Patna in the coming weeks. "Movie premières usually happen in Delhi or Mumbai. So, one in Patna would be a novelty," Sanwal says, while refusing to divulge the name of the movie and the Bollywood star invited.
The next destination for i next is Ranchi in Jharkhand, which will happen in the third week of June. Thereafter, the launch spree will take a two-month break. Depending on the board decision, the bilingual daily will look next at cities such as Nagpur, Indore, Gwalior, Chandigarh, Amritsar and Jaipur.
"Cities like Delhi, Bangalore and Hyderabad, basically the metros, are not in our scheme of things," says Sanwal.