Telugu dailies have shown an increase of 2.14 lakh readers, all major Telugu dailies - Andhra Prabha, Andhra Bhoomi, Vaartha, Prajashakti and Eenadu - have lost readers, as per the Indian Readership Survey 2008 Round 2 (IRS 2008 R2), conducted by the Media Research Users Council (MRUC) and Hansa Research. These five dailies have together lost around 13.5 lakh readers. Andhra Jyothi is the sole exception which has gained readers.
The loss is huge, so how has Telugu daily readership still gone up? Experts say that there are new newspapers such as Sakshi and Surya and other newspapers which have not been reported in the IRS. Their numbers got reflected only in the 'Any Telugu Daily' count. That is why the increase in readership.
Despite the decline in its readership, Eenadu is still the No. 1 Telugu daily, with a total readership (TR) of 1.44 crores, down from 1.47 crores in R1. In terms of total readership, it is also the ninth most read publication at the national level.
Eenadu's loss has been in its own state, Andhra Pradesh, where it is down by 3.9 lakh readers. As per the current round of IRS, its total readership in Andhra Pradesh stands at 1.41 crore. In its home town Hyderabad, Eenadu has lost around 57,000 readers since R1. In neighbouring states such as Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu, Eenadu has lost 18,000 and 5,000 readers, respectively.
However, it has offset these losses to an extent with its new editions in Maharashtra (58,000 - all Mumbai), Orissa (39,000) and Delhi (2,000).
Raghunath says, "Sakshi's emphatic entry is showing up in the count. As Sakshi was launched halfway through the survey, the damage to Eenadu and Vaartha could be more and will get reflected only in the next round of the IRS."
The surprise package is Andhra Jyothi, which has been adding readership consistently since its relaunch in October 2002. The daily has been adding three to four new editions every year, taking the total count of printing centres to 18. It toppled Vaartha from the No. 2 position on the Telugu dailies list in R1. Its current TR is 68.11 lakhs, a gain of almost 8 per cent since R1.
Raghunath says, "Of late, Andhra Jyothi has been at the receiving end of readers' sympathy, following the political attacks on its offices and on one of its journalists. It is also the only daily which has resisted the new entrants, Sakshi and Surya, by going in for extensive outdoor promotions. The anti-government editorial policies that it pursues could also have made a difference."
Andhra Jyothi is not only the only Telugu daily, but also the only language daily, to have shown such tremendous growth. But Radhakrishna is still dissatisfied with the survey. "The survey has discrepancies and flaws," he says, pointing to the loss of readership the survey has reported for Andhra Jyothi in Hyderabad (36,000 - a loss of almost 10 per cent) and Vijayawada (7,000) in Andhra Pradesh and Hubli-Dharwad (4,000 - a loss of 80 per cent) in Karnataka.
"The Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC) has shown growth for us in these regions, while we see a decline in the IRS. There has to be a correlation between the two," he says.
As per ABC January-June 2008, the circulation of Andhra Jyothi has increased from 62,761 (January-June 2007) to 69,106 in Hyderabad. Similarly, in Vijayawada, its circulation has increased from 11,754 (January-June 2007) to 15,198 (January-June 2008).
No. 3 on the list is Vaartha with a TR of 63.46 lakhs, down from 66.48 lakhs in the last round - a loss of 4.5 per cent. At fourth position is Andhra Bhoomi with a TR of 14.29 lakh readers, down from 16.92 lakhs - a total loss of 2.63 lakh readers. Another loser is Andhra Prabha, with a TR of 4.75 lakhs, down from 7.21 lakhs in R1. The biggest loser seems to be Prajashakti, with a TR loss of 37 per cent. Its TR stands at 3.3 lakhs, down from 5.21 lakhs in R1.
Overall, while Andhra Pradesh has gained 1.53 lakh Telugu readers, its capital city, Hyderabad, has lost 93,000 readers. Have the readers switched over to English newspapers in the cyber city? Raghunath says, "No." He adds, "There has been no transformation of Telugu readers to English. The loss has been the gain of the new launches, which will get reflected in the next round. There's actually a gain, not a loss."
Once newspapers like Sakshi and Surya complete the mandatory 18 month period since their launch and get reported in the readership survey, the picture may not look so gloomy. Let's not forget that Telugu dailies have actually added 2.14 lakh new readers - 1.38 lakh men and 76,000 women.
If we look at the SEC breakup, the urban SEC D and E and the rural SEC R3 segments have reported losses in readership; the growth has come from the top urban SEC ABC, which has added 1.48 lakh readers, and the rural segment R4, which has added 1.18 lakh readers. While Telugu dailies have got their best gains from the 15-29 years' age group (2.77 lakh readers), more than two lakh teenagers in the age group of 12-14 years have walked away from the existing brands. There's also been a loss of 8,000 readers in the 30-39 years' age segment.
Experts believe the youth have switched over to Family, the daily special supplement launched by new entrant Sakshi. Despite overall gains, Andhra Jyothi, too, has lost 13,000 readers in the 12-14 years' age group and around 1,000 readers in the 15-19 years' age group.
Radhakrishna offers a different view. "Does this age group read newspapers?" he asks. "It is switching to the Internet."