Down but not out. This adage holds true for Dainik Bhaskar, the Hindi daily that was the leader in terms of readership not so long ago but found itself piped to the post by archrival Dainik Jagran in Round 10 of the India Readership Survey (IRS) released on April 29 in Mumbai. Bhaskar executives (barring a few account executives) may have predictably given the event a miss, but there was a bigger reason for the absence - the group's foray into the state of Gujarat through Divya Bhaskar, a new paper to be launched in Ahmedabad in the last week of June.
Marketing executives from the group proudly announce that the promoter family, the Agarwals have shifted base from Bhopal to Ahmedabad and Girish Agarwal, the group's firebrand young director has picked up Gujarati!
What the marketing executives are actually hinting at is the group's commitment in getting it right in a non-Hindi market dominated by two players - Gujarat Samachar and Sandesh - whose circulation stands at 10.47 lakh and 7.58 lakh respectively, according to ABC for the period of July to December 2002. These figures, according to observers monitoring the market, were achieved through aggressive expansion via city-based editions in the last decade.
For starters, Gujarat minus the Kutch region, which is segregated from the mainland by an arid belt called the Rann of Kutch (towards the north) and Little Kutch (towards the south), is divided into north, south and central. The principal cities in these regions include Rajkot (north), Surat (south) and Ahmedabad-Baroda (central). Bhuj is the epicentre of activity in the Kutch region. It is also the city where the devastating earthquake occurred on the morning of January 26, 2001.
From being Ahmedabad-based dailies a decade ago, both Sandesh and Gujarat Samachar are today published out of Rajkot, Surat and Baroda (in addition to Ahmedabad) with the inclusion of Mumbai as the city of publication for the latter and Bhavnagar for the former. In all, each of the two, have a five-city spread, as far as publication of the two papers is concerned.
Bhaskar, with its 20 editions across the states of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana, Chattisgarh, Chandigarh, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra, has an overall readership, that is urban and rural put together, of 134.6 lakh, according to the latest round of the IRS. Clearly, Bhaskar's strengths cannot be overruled. But will the group achieve success in Gujarat? "Why not?" quips Girish Agarwal, director, Dainik Bhaskar "We have spent six months studying the market closely and are confident about our product."
Typically, the group unleashed a mammoth survey in March this year where 12 lakh households were tapped in and around Ahmedabad (city plus six adjoining districts) for inputs on how Divya Bhaskar should be tailored. The most notable finding, according to Agarwal, was the intense dislike expressed by readers for front-page advertisements, common in "existing papers". "There are no restrictions to ads placed on the front page," he says. " We will definitely restrict the ads on the front page of Divya Bhaskar."
Another important point, according to Agarwal, was that "70 per cent of the readers were of the opinion that the present papers are average". "Seventy per cent readers feel that the existing papers are not very close to the truth or reality," he adds.
Poorti or supplements is another area of interest for Gujarati readers, which will not be ignored by Divya Bhaskar. "We have a separate team devoted to supplements or Poorti," states Agarwal.
The result of this exercise - a product that will cater to the entire family as opposed to one or two members. "It will be utility-driven, unbiased, colourful and focus on presenting the picture as it is," emphasises Agarwal.
The paper will comprise a minimum of 20 pages (main issue plus supplement) with a price tag of Rs 2 (on stands) and an invitation price of Rs 1.50 for a six-month subscription (called order booking). The process of order booking started on April 27 with surveyors approaching the 12-lakh households tapped in the first phase, encouraging subscription for the product.
Circulation is one area that Agarwal will not comment on, at least for now. "The pre-launch order booking is on. We should get an idea by May 20," he says.
Analysts concur that a figure of 1.5 or 2 lakh is a healthy target to accomplish. "Unless they achieve that figure one can't really say that the paper is successful," avers a senior media planner based in Mumbai.
Considering that both Sandesh and Samachar are well entrenched, achieving this figure is only possible when "readers switch over from one brand to the other or via duplication" (that is, when existing readers of a brand consume the new product as well). "Growth via new readers is impossible because the market is fairly saturated with two players. But, potential for Bhaskar exists because the current crop of players leave enough room for improvement," indicates the planner from Mumbai.
Sundeep Nagpal, managing director, Stratagem Media, however, has an interesting point to make, "Order booking in a scenario where the noise-level for the product has been high is not the real indication of success in a marketplace. It is sustenance that counts. Bhaskar's true test will be how it can sustain the product in the marketplace in the long run." © 2003 agencyfaqs!