Sumita Vaid

NRS 2002: How business magazines had a field day while dailies fell

Business magazines have grown by about 15 per cent and business dailies have shrunk by about 4 per cent, according to NRS 2002

The recently released National Readership Survey (NRS) has news for everyone - some good, some bad.

Take the case of business newspapers and magazines. To get a handle on their performance here's the big picture.

From 93.8 million in 1999, the readership base in Indian is down to 86.2 million for magazines in the current year, representing a drop of 8 per cent. In contrast, from 131 million in 1999, the readership base for newspapers/dailies has increased to 156 million in 2002. In reach terms, the study states that the penetration of magazines has fallen by 17 per cent and that of newspapers/dailies has increased by 8 per cent over 1999.

Interestingly, while the overall growth of magazines has fallen, the business segment has grown quite a lot - by about 15 per cent. In contrast, while newspapers have grown in absolute terms, the business segment has actually shrunk by about 4 per cent.

Coming to specific numbers, the unchallenged leader among business dailies, Economic Times with over 950,000 readers, maintained its huge lead over the others, though in absolute terms its readership actually fell from 980,000 as per NRS 2001. On its turn, Business Standard lost 12 per cent of its reader - sliding from 85,000 in NRS 2001 to 67,000 in NRS 2002. Business Line also followed suit - tripping from 367,000 in NRS 2001 to 344,000 in NRS 2002.

In fact, Financial Express seems to be the only one that has managed to make its numbers look up - from 60,000 in NRS 2001 to 73,000 in NRS 2002. The overwhelming dominance of Economic Times becomes evident from the fact that combined readership of BS, FE and Business Line is just about 30 per cent of ET's readership!

Magazines, on the other hand, have shown a very clear move towards specific interest segments. While general interest, film and entertainment-based magazines have shown erosion of more than 25 per cent, business magazines have clocked good growth. Living Media Group magazine Business Today emerged a clear leader with a readership of 709,000 from 532,000 in 2001. That's a whopping 33 per cent growth. It has left behind NRS 2001 leader Business India, which too has recorded a marginal increase of 6 per cent (from 579,000 in NRS 2001 to 611,000 in NRS 2002). In contrast, Ananda Bazaar Patrika Group magazine Businessworld had a poor showing this time. Its readership has gone down by 3 per cent - from 245,000 in 2001 down to 237,000 in NRS 2002.

An analysis of city-wise performance of business magazines and dailies throws up an interesting point - most of their growth has come from Delhi. Delhi accounts for 11 per cent of the business readership universe and has grown by a staggering 27 per cent. BT, Intelligent Investor and Financial Express were notable gainers in Delhi, recording huge growth rates of 60 per cent, 158 per cent and 68 per cent respectively. Much of this growth has to do with aggressive marketing unleashed by both BT and Intelligent Investor.

Here's a look at some such moves. Among business magazines Businessworld made the first move of slashing its cover price in 1999. It then changed its frequency from a fortnightly to a weekly and went Rs 5 from Rs 10 (which is actually a rupee more than the first issue of Businessworld when the it was launched as a fortnightly in 1981 at Rs 4). The raison d'être: To increase on-stand sales. And, in effect, get more readers. Business Today reacted - albeit a little late - when in October 2001 it brought its price down to Rs 10 from Rs 20. Business India, however, maintained its cover price at Rs 15.

Says CVL Srinivas, COO, North & South, Madison Media, "Though both newspapers and magazines have aggressively cut down their prices, among magazines this is a more recent phenomenon. Dailies have been doing it for some time now - in fact, since the mid-nineties. So you could say the immediate fallout of this price war was felt more in magazine readership than in newspapers. After all, you can't hope to woo more readers every time and at the same rate that you drop prices!"

But to say that the price cut alone has made Business Today the leading business magazine is incorrect. "It is a concerted effort," explains Barun Das, general manager, marketing, Business Today. "Which involves sprucing up the content, taking new print initiatives and creative marketing enterprises. And making the brand top of mind through this collective effort."

"But do these marketing ‘gimmicks' pay off in the long run?" questions Pheroza Bilimoria, managing director, Business India. "Yes Business Today has been very visible, and yes, I admit, Business India has not been that energetic. Though there has been a real jump in the readership, there is a lot of flab that the publication (BT) offers its advertisers." Bilimoria elaborates, "If you look at the numbers carefully, you will see there has been a dramatic increase in BT's readership in the 15 to 19 age group. From 55,000 in 2001 to 92,000 in NRS 2002 (a 67 per cent jump). But advertisers are not interested in this segment. They are interested in the 25-34 age group, because these readers are the future business leaders. But what Business Today is doing is showing the cumulative readership figure to the advertisers."

While Bilimoria claims BI is focussed on the 25-plus age group, the magazine's performance in this age band has not been too encouraging either. While Business Today's readership in the 25-34 years age group has grown by 29 per cent (from 165,000 in 2001 to 213,000), that of Business India has gone down by close to 5 per cent (from 185,000 in 2001 down to 176,000). When asked whether Business India is contemplating a price cut, Bilimoria, dodged the issue by saying "The Business India reader will continue reading the magazine whether is for Rs 15, or Rs 10, or Rs 5."

So that's the pecking order in NRS 2002. Who stands to gain in the next round, only time can tell. As things stand now, the leaders in both magazines and dailies seem quite well entrenched, with the No 2 in both segments in need for a fair bit of catching up. © 2002 agencyfaqs!

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