Future of News 2010: Can regional dailies grow beyond their existing boundaries?

By Sumantha Rathore , afaqs!, New Delhi | In Media Publishing | August 02, 2010
An eminent panel debated on the factors restricting the growth of regional dailies beyond the set boundaries of states

The second session of the day, titled "How can regional dailies grow beyond existing boundaries?" saw discussions between eminent industry experts, namely Anita Nayyar, CEO, MPG; Bharat Kapadia, director, Lokmat; Tathagat Satpathy, chief editor, Dharitri; and KRP Reddy, director marketing, Sakshi. The session was moderated by Prajjal Saha, deputy editor, afaqs!.

Saha initiated the session by comparing the growth of Hindi dailies to regional dailies. He said that till the late 80's, every state in India had a strong language daily, be it ABP in West Bengal or Dainik Bhaskar in Madhya Pradesh. But in the last decade, though Hindi dailies have expanded aggressively, the growth of regional dailies has been restricted. "What are the growth prospects for language dailies?" he questioned.

Reddy responded to this, by saying that Sakshi launched with 23 simultaneous editions, of which 19 were published from Telugu-speaking Andhra Pradesh; while the remaining four were published from outside the state. "State borders are not the limitation for regional dailies. For instance, Telugu is the third most spoken language in the country. It is the second largest spoken language in Tamil Nadu. There are people spread across the country who speak the language."

He added that Sakshi has expanded beyond Andhra Pradesh, and Orissa is an important market for any Telugu daily. Sakshi also recently launched a full-fledged edition from Bengaluru, complete with a printing facility.

Another factor that has the capability of fuelling the growth of regional dailies is the availability of printing facilities and technology. A regional publication need not own a printing facility in every location now; these could be hired for an hour or so, if the requirements are limited.

The hawker network is also an important piece in growth, believes Reddy. And because of hawkers becoming organized, it has become easier for regional dailies to enter new markets. He also emphasized that the birth state of the publishers or owners of the newspaper matters a lot while deciding the fate of the newspaper in the country. "Readers will never accept a newspaper owned by someone from the state other than its own," affirmed Reddy.

Saha then quizzed Kapadia, asking why more papers did not launch local-language editions when they entered new regional markets, the way Dainik Bhaskar launched Divya Bhaskar (a Gujarati daily) when it entered Gujarat. "How tough it is to change the perspective of the readers?"

"When Divya Bhaskar was launched, it was a duopoly situation in that market. The Times of India had launched a Gujarati edition, which was eventually closed down. It was a tough market for anybody to get in. But for readers, it doesn't matter who the publishers are. For them, what matters is whether their needs are being satisfied with the paper or not. It's not the ownership that restricted the growth; it was the complicated printing technology that was restricting the growth of regional dailies," said Kapadia.

Citing a quote by Henry Ford, Kapadia said - "No market is saturated for a good product; but for a bad product, it gets saturated very quickly. So, if you have a good product, you can still find a market like Divya Bhaskar did; but if you are bad, then you cannot expand."

He further said that expansion cannot be done merely for its own sake -- there has to be a certain ROI associated with it. With the advancement of technology and accessibility, monetisation of the product is what is stopping regional dailies from moving beyond the set boundaries. "The risk is high, which in some cases is not worth taking," added Kapadia.

Saha further questioned the panellists whether the owners of regional publications were conservative in their approach, and therefore, had not expanded to other markets.

Satpathy said that in India, there is immense scope for the regional press to grow; and with the emergence of industries and companies, regional dailies have begun experimenting. "Expansion is always good, if you can afford it. But logistics is one big factor that is hampering the expansion of regional publications in other states. Moreover, the issue is not about going into new states. What is more important is to give in-depth news to the existing readers and create new readers within the same state," he added.

Citing the example of Orissa, he said that the state has a terrific thirst for news, and there is need for the publications to address that need. Money will start flowing in once more publications find their way to the state.

Saha asked Nayyar, "When the media agency puts in money in a language publication, do you want them to grow deeper or wider?" She replied that there were pockets in the country where certain languages worked better than other languages, for the simple reason that the audience there understood the local language better than Hindi or English. She asked why Hindi language newspapers have more editions, as compared to the regional media.

"For a simple reason: Hindi-speaking masses are higher in numbers, and so are the Hindi speaking markets. That's the reason why Divya Bhaskar did not try to speak to them in Hindi; rather they chose to take Gujarati. They did transcend the boundaries of Hindi-speaking markets, but they connected with the audiences in Gujarat in their own language."

The next question was: With the newer generation of publication owners taking charge, are things set to change for the regional print industry? Nayyar said that sons of older generations of players were instigating the change. The newer generation is far more aggressive than the first generation of publishers. "They are giving the regional newspapers much-needed finesse. They want to expand to newer locations," she added.

Reddy agreed with Nayyar and added that the newer generation of publishers are looking at news options beyond the traditional media within the set boundaries of the state. Satpathy cited that the family is the inheritor of the wealth accumulated by generations; but age is not important, having an idea is important.

Seconding Reddy was Nayyar, who said, "Nothing replaces experience. But it's the newer generation who is adapting to the changes. Adaptability to the ideas is what comes easily to the newer generations."

Saha asked the panellists if collaboration could lead to bilingual products and content sharing could help regional dailies in expansion. To this, Reddy said that though content sharing is there, bilingual products haven't worked well for the regional markets. Satpathy also voiced the same opinion, stating that sharing of content is not an option for them.

Kapadia said that the reason behind fewer content sharing collaborations is "ego hassles. They all think that they are the best."

Moving on to political influences on the regional dailies, Saha asked if political clout the regional dailies enjoyed in their respective states, was one of the reasons stopping language newspapers from expanding. The panellists were unanimous in their reply, saying that political influence was not obstructing growth; it was other vital factors such as costs, readers and feasibility.

(The third edition of the annual event, Future of News was organized by afaqs! in New Delhi on July 30.The event was sponsored by STAR News, Sakal and Business Standard.)

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