With the National Readership Survey (NRS) now out in the market what is in store for the regional press, especially Hindi and Marathi? What is their future with the Government approving FDI in print? Will the regional press move with the times?
First some quick number crunching. Out of the 46 Hindi dailies surveyed by the NRS, Dainik Bhaskar has registered the fastest growth with a readership of 1.31 crore in 2002 as opposed to a figure of 68 lakh in 1999. Dainik Jagran stands second with a readership of 1.26 crore this year as opposed to 92 lakh in 1999. Amar Ujala, Hindustan, Nav Bharat and Rajasthan Patrika, all dailies, follow suit with figures of 64.31 lakh, 63.85 lakh 55.76 lakh and 54.32 lakh respectively.
Interestingly, Hindi magazines (43 Hindi magazines were surveyed by the NRS) have had a poor run over the last three years with most registering negative figures. The few exceptions include Saras Salil (1.06 crore), India Today - Hindi (51.27 lakh), Nirogdham (34.58 lakh), Meri Saheli (33.85 lakh) and Vyapar (2.35 lakh).
Now a look at the figures of Marathi dailies and magazines.
Among the Marathi dailies, (37 were surveyed by NRS), Lokmat, Sakal and Deshonnati have registered positive figures with 78.40 lakh, 45.63 lakh and 8.33 lakh as opposed to 54.59 lakh, 41.53 lakh and 2.52 lakh in 1999.
Much of the growth for Lokmat has come through multi-editions priced at Re 1. In fact, a recent price war at Jalgaon saw both Sakal and Lokmat slashing their rates to Re 1. With the exception of Charchaughi (3.98 lakh in 2002 as opposed to 2.71 lakh in 1999) most other Marathi magazines (18 magazines were surveyed by the NRS) registered negative growths including Chitralekha, Marathi, and Lokprabha, which registered a drop in both readership and circulation.
However, there are some voices of dissent here. For one, Bharat Kapadia, publisher, Chitralekha Group, doesn't quite agree with the NRS figures. "There seems to be some anomaly in the NRS 2002. They have shown a drop in circulation of Chitralekha, Marathi in comparison to NRS 2000, when in reality, due to our tie-up with Deshdoot (the No 3 daily in north Maharashtra), circulation of the magazine has doubled to over 20 lakh from 10 lakh in July-December 2000. In fact, Chitralekha, Marathi has become the largest selling magazine ever in the state!"
He argues that the drop in readership of magazines as stated by the NRS is quite marginal with some actually registering a growth. "Much of the decline in readership in the Hindi magazine market can be attributed to the close down of the Mitra Prakashan Group which had titles such as Manohar Kahaniyan, Maya and Sathya Katha. This resulted in 1.5 crore drop in readership, which has reflected in the NRS 2002. Let me tell you, that till five to 10 years ago, Manohar Kahaniyan was the most read magazine in the country," he says.
Check out the numbers that Mitra Prakashan alone guaranteed. Manohar Kahaniyan had readership of 64 lakh, Sathya Katha 47 lakh, Manorama 23 lakh and Maya had 22 lakh. All these magazines featured in NRS 1999 and are not obviously there in NRS 2002.
Media analysts also maintain that the growth of dailies in the Hindi and Marathi belt can be traced to their increasing acceptance as a source of news. As a senior media observer based in Mumbai puts it, "The credibility of a news channel is less than a daily with newspapers not only being a source of information but also a means of relaxation to the average reader. All of these factors have contributed to the growth in readership of dailies." Claims Praveen Tripathi, Communication and Media Effectiveness consultant, "Besides, neo literates (ones who have just become literate) will continue to read language newspapers, thus assuring their growth."
Girish Agarwal, director, Dainik Bhaskar, talks about the strategy of his paper. "We tapped the untapped markets and focused on converting non-readers to readers." The result? Of the 1.7 crore growth in the reach of press as highlighted by the recent NRS (the overall figures read as 16.3 crore in NRS 2000 and 18 crore in NRS 2002), Dainik Bhaskar alone has contributed 50 lakh. Much of this growth in readership has come from the existing markets of Rajasthan, Chattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh (30 lakh) and newer markets of Haryana and Chandigarh (20 lakh).
But when it comes to entertainment, people in the Hindi and Marathi belt, like Indians in other regions, tend to fall back on television. Magazines have borne the full brunt of it. Especially so the general interest magazines. Only niche magazines that are primarily information-based are tipped to survive.
So, will FDI in print impact the regional press? Most seem skeptical, asserting that with 26 per cent stake available and no management or editorial control, it is really not a very lucrative proposition. Some others see a change only in the ownership pattern and not in the relationship between the reader and the brand.
Says Tripathi, "If the Hindi and Marathi press really gets professional, I can see them giving the English newspapers and the general interest newspapers, a run for their money. Don't forget that the first choice of people in the regional belt, whether Hindi or Marathi, is the language paper as opposed to English. If they can provide an editorially sound product, I don't see why the feat accomplished by Eenadu in Andhra Pradesh can't be repeated." © 2002 agencyfaqs!