Devesh Gupta

"Bihar offers huge promise": Girish Agarwal, DB Corp

Starting January 19, DB Corp will foray into the Bihar market with the launch of its Patna edition. With a cover price of Rs. 2.50, it will enter the city with a print run of over 1.5 lakh copies.

Besides Hindustan, the 24 page edition will compete with Prabhat Khabar and Dainik Jagran.

For Dainik Bhaskar, a brand largely dependent on local markets, Bihar will be the 12th state for its Hindi newspaper, which began in 1958 in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh. The brand's other markets include Chattisgarh, Rajasthan, Haryana, Chandigarh, Punjab, New Delhi, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Jharkhand and Jammu. Besides Hindi, Dainik Bhaskar's other language papers include Divya Marathi in Marathi (Maharashtra) and Divya Bhaskar in Guajarati (Gujarat).

The Patna edition will be the group's 67th. On this occasion, we spoke to Girish Agarwal, the promoter-director of DB Corp, for whom the slashed cover prices of rival brands, around the time of his new launches, barely come as a surprise anymore. Excerpts:

Edited Excerpts

Why are you launching in Bihar now? Why so late?

Till 1996, we were a Madhya Pradesh-based paper. Then we decided to move out and explore other markets. Between 1997 and 1999 we went to Rajasthan, in 2000 we went to Chandigarh and Haryana and then in 2002, to Gujarat. In 2007, we went to Punjab, in 2010-11, to Jharkhand and in 2012, Maharashtra.

It is not a matter of ticking the box but finding out which market is more attractive, viable and profitable at a given point in time. For example, in 2000, we went to Haryana and Chandigarh but not to Punjab because the Punjab market did not seem strong at the time. We went to Punjab in 2007 when we felt the market was good. After entering Jharkhand in 2010-11, we realised that Bihar is an attractive option too.

Is the Bihar launch especially important because it is the last Hindi speaking state after UP, which, according to reports, you cannot enter because of a family feud?

No, there is no family issue at play. We are not entering the UP market because we feel the potential is not big; the investment needed in that market is high and we feel it is not the right market for us now.

Let's assume for a minute there is a family issue on the legal front - even then, I can launch a different brand altogether. Like Divya Marathi and Divya Bhaskar, I can launch a paper here with a different brand name. The issue is the potential of the market. And we feel the investment in UP, as of now, is not commensurate with the ROI.

Bihar ranks low on literacy and per capita income. What do you find attractive about it?

How we treat Bihar in terms of cost and circulation structure will help ensure it becomes viable for us. Instead of spreading our wings across Bihar, we are beginning with Patna so that we can assess the market, control costs and ultimately become profitable. It is part of our strategy. We will take nearly three to four years to break even. The Bihar ad market size is estimated at Rs. 350 crore.

What are the prospects for Bihar?

Let's face it - expectations from Bihar were very different few years ago. Everybody thought the state will completely turn around as India was moving at an eight per cent GDP growth. But in the last two to three years, India's growth has slowed and expectations have reduced. Bihar is no exception. Having said that, I feel Bihar offers huge promise. For now, we are focused on this market.

Hindustan, Prabhat Khabar and Dainik Jagran are established brands. Where is the opportunity for Dainik Bhaskar in Bihar - in content, circulation or pricing?

People read our paper because of our content. We sell our product because of our content. Though as head of marketing, I can boast of doing a great job, the editorial team does a much larger and better job. People buy a paper to read news; advertising follows. People don't buy a paper to read the ads. So our entire focus is on the content. We are an editorial-driven organisation, focused on how to involve, engage and connect with the reader.

In the late 1990s, when you launched in Rajasthan, you began with the pre-launch home-to-home survey model. Does it still work?

We've followed a survey format since then. We approach customers before a launch, find out what kind of newspaper they want and then design the paper based on their responses. The modalities and nuances keep changing from time to time and market to market. For instance, the questionnaire survey we did in Maharashtra, Gujarat and Bihar are completely different from one another. Over the last 15 years we've learnt how every region has a different approach, likes and dislikes.

What inputs did you get from the Bihar market when you conducted the survey?

Well, 91 per cent of the readers felt their existing newspaper is biased and demanded an independent, unbiased one. 99 per cent were dissatisfied with the cover price of Rs. 1,500 per annum for a newspaper. And 89 per cent said they wanted to read political analysis, something they found lacking in the existing newspapers. Further, 58 per cent were dissatisfied with the look and feel of existing newspapers.

Note from the editor: We have received a mail from Hindustan contesting the circulation figure of 1.25 lakh copies that was attributed to their Patna city edition in the introduction of this interview with Girish Agarwal of DB Corp. They have stated that Hindustan's circulation figure for the edition is 1.9 lakh copies.