afaqs!

Reading at noon

By , agencyfaqs! | In | May 13, 2002
In Mumbai where everyone is early to rise and travels around, the afternoon paper has a natural slot


The average Mumbaikar has a lot of time to read.

The city is the financial capital of India, and millions of people are on the move every hour. It is a city with a life that no other Indian city has - hectic, even frenzied. Yet, ironically, it is a city where a lot of people have a lot of time to read. In the Colaba cafes sipping strawberry- or mango-flavoured iced teas, or swilling generous jugs of beer at Café Mondegar. Taxi drivers who sit in the achingly dazzling afternoon sun around Regal theatre, waiting for their next passenger. There are less pleasant moments too. Like being jammed in a train at 6.00 am on the way to work.

The rush, the jam-packed trains, and the waiting, all translate into ample time to read. Old dog-eared paperbacks, and the afternoon paper.

It is the perfect city for an afternoon paper. The city has around 20 of them - several in the regional language of Marathi, others in Hindi, and two in English - the Mid Day and the Afternoon Despatch and Courier. The popular tabloid Mid Day sells 1,25,000 copies per day - 80 per cent of them on the road or off-the-stands. Only 20 per cent of its readers are subscription-based.

So can the Mumbai model be translated elsewhere, like in Delhi? History says it may not be possible. But there are many who think otherwise.

For one Kalli Purie, publisher of Today (an India Today Group-promoted afternoon tabloid launched in Delhi last month) believes, "The afternoon slot in Delhi is a gap waiting to be filled." The reasons are not far to seek. "Delhi is fast becoming a commuter city; it has more personal cars than any other metro," she enumerates the reasons. "The end of the year will see the start of Delhi's metro rail. Phase I has been designed with a carriage capacity of 19.5 lakh passenger-units per day. Above all, Delhi is a city populated with news junkies. An amazing 11 lakh newspapers are sold in the city - which is more than any other metro. Last but the not the least, the city has the highest number of crorepatis per million households. It is also the city with the highest per capita income."

On his part Bharat Kapadia, managing editor and associate publisher of the Mumbai-based Chitralekha Group, thinks the task may not be so easy after all. "In Delhi there is no distribution set up for an afternoon paper, and bus travel is not suited to reading. However, if an afternoon paper can concentrate on breaking news and come up with a breaking stories regularly, then it could create an afternoon-paper habit," he says.

Satyajit Sen, associate vice-president, Grey Worldwide India, Delhi, says the problem may not necessarily lie in the news consumption habit but in the manner in which marketers have approached the market for 'afternoon news' in Delhi. "Delhi doesn't have a strong afternoon newspaper culture. But that is a function of the lack of a serious effort in producing and marketing a meaningful product to occupy this slot. All previous attempts have been, at best, half hearted."

All said, Mumbai has some distinct advantages. The kind of transport a city has also plays an important part in the success of an afternoon newspaper. "Mumbai is a city where a vast mass of people travel all the way in one direction, and then all the way in the other," points out Sandip Tarkas, associate vice-president and manager, HTA Fulcrum Often, in the city, jam-packed as it is, the only way to reach somewhere fast is the train - the ideal for an afternoon tabloid.

The city has an estimated 10.5 million commuters, and Mid Day has a daily print run of 1,50,000 copies. According to the IRS figures, one copy of Mid- Day is read by 5.9 people as against 2.1 for The Times of India. Though it is essentially an afternoon newspaper, there are three editions - first in the morning, second in the afternoon and a late Mid Day.

In contrast, while in Delhi it is easier to get from one point to the other by bus, local transport is disorganised. Another factor that makes the city different is the absence of a network of newsstands that can be compared to Mumbai's. Choked with potential point-of-sale stands, Mumbai has an estimated 4,00,000 street vendors. While not all might be in the newspaper selling business, it just indicates the number of people who have time to pause and buy.

Mumbai's early hours also mean that many commuters, who live in the suburbs since they cannot afford the exorbitant housing or rent closer to the city, start the day at an unearthly hour - often as early as 4.00 am. "Such people do not have the time or the inclination to catch the news in the morning newspaper or on TV. They are an ideal target for the afternoon paper," points out a senior media planner.

Content is also important. The afternoon paper worldwide is the stronghold of the sensational tabloid journalist, and the headlines in the tabloids like Mid Day deal with news that shocks, rather than enlightens. Surprisingly for a tabloid, the paper has sometimes dealt with human interest stories - such as the plight of a former Bengali school headmistress, who, robbed on her first night in Mumbai, was forced to spend three months, homeless on the city's beaches. Mid Day's coverage evoked sympathy from the city's residents, who pooled in the money to send the lady back home to Kolkata.

Thus when in comes to making money, the afternoon papers in Mumbai can teach those in other cities a lesson or two. © 2002 agencyfaqs!

Additional reporting by: Alokananda Chakraborty

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