The Sunday Express was launched on April 24; already the paper claims a circulation base of 5.85 lakh (April 2002-September 2002), up from 3.55 lakh (March 2002). If these figures are anything to go by, it is obvious The Sunday Express has successfully plugged a gap in the market that was waiting for a good Sunday paper. Now the question is, can The Sunday Express be the money spinner for the Indian Express group? And will it eventually help resurrect the Indian Express brand?
To begin with, NP Singh, director, marketing, The Indian Express Group, says the paper has successfully crossed its first hurdle. "We usually get tender ads and government ads for the weekdays, which do not pay much. Our core objective was to attract upmarket advertisers with The Sunday Express, which we have done to some extent," he says. Which is good enough, admit media planners. As a Delhi-based media professional points out, "Getting advertisers is the eternal battle for the non-number ones. The fact of the matter is advertisers not only look for healthy figures, but also the profile of the readers."
The Express Group brass obviously understands this. The group's crusader The Sunday Express, therefore, is being pitched as a standalone paper. Clearly this is a foot-in-the door effort to make inroads into new readers' homes and steadily pave way for the weekday paper to enter too.
The Group is going all out to make the product mix attractive. "Most of the Sunday papers are dressed up editions of the weekday papers. There is nothing much to read really," says Singh. "What we are trying to do is make Sunday reading fashionable by introducing a magazine kind of a product with in-depth and enjoyable content. Thus, for the price of Re 1 (Delhi), readers get to read about 34 pages of good content in a week. If the same reader was earlier shelling out about Rs 60 in a month for an English magazine like the Outlook or the India Today, now for Rs 4, she gets a similar reading experience," he adds.
The Sunday Express is divided into four sections. First is the main paper, which carries all the news. Second is the 'Sunday Story' section, which has the big investigative news pieces. The third is the glazed section called 'Eye Express'. This section covers major stories on lifestyle and has sub-sections such as 'Travelogue', 'Books' and 'Arts & Culture'. The fourth section is Newsline, which, incidentally comes in the weekday paper as well. While the Delhi and Chandigarh editions are available at an invitation price of Rs 1, the Mumbai and Pune editions are available at Rs 2. The Gujarat edition is priced a little higher, at Rs 3.50.
Singh justifies the differential pricing on quality. "Quality has been the hallmark of The Indian Express. While we have been very strong editorially, The Indian Express has not made much effort to make itself very visible. With The Sunday Express we want to make people notice us," he says.
Media observers, however, remain skeptical about the prospects of a Sunday paper. Mona Jain, media director, Lodestar, Delhi, cites the example of the Sunday Observer to prove her point. "Despite being a good paper, the Sunday Observer failed in the market. Honestly, I do not see any space for a standalone Sunday paper. From the readers' point of view, the loyalty towards his/her paper cannot be challenged by another paper that easily. Right now, The Sunday Express can enter homes as an additional paper; the chances of it replacing or substituting the regular paper are very bleak."
But the group is upbeat. "The launch happened barely six months ago and the current circulation base of The Sunday Express is a staggering 5.85 lakh, which is phenomenal given the time frame," claims Singh. Indranil Datta, general manager, Zenith Media, shares the group's optimism. "To a discerning reader, a good paper will always appeal. In fact, on a Sunday, the average reader spends 3-4 per cent more time on reading. Also, most of the Sunday papers are mere flip-throughs. Readers want to read good papers."
But the bigger point is will advertisers be ready to park their monies with The Sunday Express? Again, Jain has her doubts. "I would rather put my money in established papers - where I am sure I would get my returns - than experiment. The closet analogy I can give is TV. I would rather buy space in the two best TV channels than in standalone channels." Datta, on his part, draws attention to the paper's plus points. "Through The Sunday Express, in a way, the group has contemporised its image. The Sunday Express has a very wide coverage in the north and the west, so getting the advertisers attention is not going to be that difficult."
The task essentially boils down to aggressive marketing. "We do not have the kind of monetary strength big publication houses have," admits Singh. "But we are promoting The Sunday Express in a cautious and innovative manner. And our advertising efforts would be mostly below the line," he assures. © 2002 agencyfaqs!