afaqs!

Bhopal: War of words

By Dhaleta Surender Kumar , afaqs!, Bhopal and Indore | In Media Publishing | June 30, 2008
As two new dailies, NavDunia and Patrika, move in, Bhopal seems to be the place where the action is. How are they going about it? And how is the current leader, Dainik Bhaskar, taking it?

If it & #BANNER1 & # weren't for the print wars, it would seem as if Bhopal's outdoor advertising business was in deep trouble. Unused hoardings with agencies' telephone numbers appeal to advertisers to get in touch. However, this story is not about the hoardings business in Bhopal. It is about how the print media business is showing all the signs of a royal battle.

Dainik Bhaskar (DB) is the big boy in Bhopal. The two new entrants, Patrika and NavDunia (ND), want to steal the thunder. DB does not seem to be visibly bothered. But as more Patrika and ND hoardings, ND-branded bus shelters and some branded boats at the famous Bhopal Boat Club come up, DB is taking note of the challengers. What exactly is happening in Bhopal?

Who's who?
Both new players have impeccable credentials. Patrika is from the Rajasthan Patrika Group, aiming to break away from the image of a paper focussing on Rajasthan.

ND is from the Naidunia stable. Naidunia was originally owned by three families, the Chhajlanis, the Sethias and the Tiwaris. Following a split in 1991, the Chhajlanis and Sethias (Naidunia Media) retained the Indore title, while the Tiwaris (Naidunia Publishers) kept the Bhopal title. The latter prefixed 'Dainik' to the title. When the Chhajlanis decided to enter Bhopal, they had to come with a new name, hence NavDunia.

Both newcomers know their opposition quite well. While Rajasthan Patrika and DB face each other every day in Rajasthan, Naidunia and DB are battling it out in Indore. But this is the first time the three are in the same arena. This development has pushed Bhopal's erstwhile No. 2, Raj Express (RE), into a corner, if the claims of ND and Patrika are to be believed.

At present, the leader (in terms of circulation) in Bhopal is DB with a circulation of 1,06,105 copies - the entire edition has a circulation of 2,27,104 copies (ABC figures, July-December 2007). RE claims to have a print run of 72,000. But Patrika and ND claim a print run of 1.5 lakh copies each. The other contenders in the city are Dainik Jagran, with a circulation of 82,925 (ABC, July-December 2007) and a city circulation of 42,279, and Nava Bharat, for which no figures are available.

Price warriors

Aneil Mahajan
DB sells at a cover price of Rs 3 on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays, and Rs 2.50 on the other days of the week. Patrika walked in at a cover price of Rs 1.50 and ND jumped in with a cover price of Re 1 on weekdays and Rs 3 on Sundays. Aneil Mahajan, chief operating officer, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, DB, claims that the company is not interested in a price war. "We believe in our product. We are responsive to the readers' needs and we revamp our paper every year. This revamp is not only to keep the changes in readers' needs in mind, but also the requirements of the advertisers." Even so, it came up with a clever strategy.

The group launched a DB variant named Jan Jagriti (JJ) at a cover price of Re 1. It is no different from the main DB, except that it is labelled Jan Jagriti to the right of the masthead and has 16 fewer pages. It does not carry the supplement, City Bhaskar (replaced by a four page supplement targeting SEC C) and a 16 page compact, DB STAR. "JJ is a successful experiment that started in Indore," says Mahajan.

According to market sources, JJ has a print run of about 63,000 copies in Indore and about 45,000 in Bhopal. The target audience for JJ is SEC C and below. Put together, the circulation of DB and JJ in Bhopal will be just over 1.5 lakh copies. DB's compact, DB STAR, is an initiative to get the youth involved in reading newspapers. It has plans to make DB STAR, now distributed free with DB, a standalone newspaper. DB STAR was also launched with a view to get in a third layer of advertisers who could not afford the main paper. The tabloid's ad rates are 30 per cent lower than those of DB's. "So, we've tried to bring in the small advertisers as well," says Mahajan.

On the ground
Ask the vendors in Bhopal if Patrika and ND have dented DB, and the answers are rather surprising. Apparently, it is RE that is feeling the heat. Buyers are cancelling subscriptions for RE in favour of Patrika. RE's unit head, Satish Pimpli, refused to comment on the new developments.

Vinay Chhajlani
Vendors also say that ND is faring well in Bhopal, more so because it has hired separate vendors. Vinay Chhajlani, chief executive officer and director, Naidunia Media, reveals that ND has hired 35 autorickshaws, which go around the city between 7am and 11am, announcing, 'Aaj Hi Padh Ke Dekhiye'. The autorickshaws also carry subscription forms, which the reader can fill in and either hand over to the drivers or put into the 13 drop boxes in the city. "We receive applications for about 300 subscriptions daily," Chhajlani says.

For Naidunia Media, Bhopal is its sixth edition. It has editions in Indore, Jabalpur and Gwalior (in Madhya Pradesh) and Raipur and Bilaspur (in Chhattisgarh). On its decision to enter Bhopal, Chhajlani echoes the views of BR Singh, general manager (circulation), Patrika, and Mahajan of DB. Chhajlani says, "Bhopal being the state capital and 2008 being an election year, the city can't be ignored. National advertisers won't pick up just Indore or Gwalior. They would like to have Bhopal in the media mix."

B R Singh
According to Chhajlani, from the readers' perspective, Bhopal is heading towards a two paper mix. A household could have any of these combinations: DB-Patrika, DB-ND or Patrika-ND. "Eventually, content will be the differentiator," he says.

Promotions are the way to crack the readership and circulation puzzle. According to vendors, DB, besides launching JJ and DB STAR, has many promotions up its sleeve. A set of six ice cream bowls is being given free to JJ subscribers, and a 14 litre bucket is up for grabs for DB subscribers.

Other sources claim that to compensate hawkers for the loss in commission due to DB's falling circulation, they are being given 10 free copies of JJ. Patrika, too, uses promotions. Apart from vendor incentives, it has a coupon worth Rs 15 printed in the daily. The reader can exchange this for a gift.

Consolidation ahead

Singh of Patrika argues that for years, Madhya Pradesh hasn't had a clear leader in the newspaper segment. "DB has made its presence felt in the past 10 years only," he says. "While Naidunia is the leader in Indore, Nava Bharat led for long in Bhopal before DB took over. Even Dainik Jagran wound up its Indore edition about two and a half months ago and is serving Indore with its Bhopal edition." The next destination for Patrika is Indore. The outdoor campaigns in that city ask questions such as 'Indore Ka Vikaas Kyun Nahin Hua? Aur Is Vikaas Mein Media Ka Contribution Kya Raha?' In Bhopal, it just went with a statement, 'Hum Hain Bhopal Ki Awaaz'.

Singh says Patrika will bring credibility to journalism in Madhya Pradesh. He gives an example of a story that Patrika published, exposing corruption in the health related government scheme, Janani. The fallout, he says, was that the registrations of two hospitals were cancelled.

Early morning Bhopal: the hawkers
get ready to deliver the newspapers
What about business? Where do the ads come from? In Indore, Patrika will cash in on the sarafa (jewellery) bazaar, commodities and readymade garments (Indore is one of the biggest suppliers of readymade garments in India). In Bhopal, it hopes to cash in on government advertising and the retail sector. Mahajan of DB says education, automobiles and electronics are the biggest advertisers. Education (with MBA and IIT coaching classes and spoken English classes) is the biggest category. The ratio of national and local advertisers is roughly 50:50.

What do the players see ahead? According to Chhajlani, "The circulation war will move on to advertising. But the local advertising market is not going to open up as much and the bulk of the pie will be shared by the three players." Commenting on the future of the Bhopal media war, Mahajan of DB says, "There will be consolidation, with two or three players being left in the Hindi domain."