Alokananda Chakraborty

Navbharat and Lokmat Samachar claim pole position in Nagpur

Both dailies claim to be ahead of each other in the Nagpur market

In the never-ending race for the No 1 slot, Hindi dailies Navbharat (from the Navbharat Group active in the regions of Vidarbha in Maharashtra, Chattisgarh and Mahakaushal) and Lokmat Samachar (from the Lokmat Group considered one of the foremost in Maharashtra) have been locked in a price war in Nagpur since July this year resulting in claims and counter claims of a sizeable jump in circulation.

Sameer Maheshwari, director of the Navbharat Group, claims that from the time the prices of both Navbharat and Navrashtra (the group's Marathi daily) were reduced from Rs 2.50 to Re 1, the circulation of both have increased. Navbharat has increased to 1.10 lakh copies in Nagpur city from 52,000 copies, and Navrashtra has seen a jump of 50,000 copies from a stagnant 15,000 copies earlier.

However, when contacted by agencyfaqs!, Jwalant Swaroop, group general manager - Lokmat, had a different story to tell. He claims that Lokmat Samachar clocks around 1 lakh copies in Nagpur city to Navbharat's 85,000 copies. Even in Nagpur district (rest of Nagpur minus the city), Lokmat Samachar is the clear leader with 25,000 copies to Navbharat's 15,000 copies, he claims. "We have actually gone in for a completely new look and design involving all three publications of the Lokmat Group," reiterates Swaroop. "Content has also been overhauled and the products have been repositioned and relaunched," he adds.

Besides revamping content and design, the size of the three publications - flagship Lokmat (Marathi daily with a circulation of 1.59 lakh copies according to ABC for the period, July-December 2001), Lokmat Samachar and Lokmat Times (English daily) - have been reduced to 27.5 inches in width from 30 inches. Besides, the editorial team has been restructured with Kumar Ketkar taking over as editor-in-chief of the entire group, Achutanand Misra being appointed as editor of Lokmat Samachar and MJ Akbar, editor-in-chief of the Asian Age, coming on board as consulting editor. "We have a strategic alliance with the Asian Age, which means they would provide us with content and vice-versa," emphasises Swaroop.

Incidentally, the price war involving Samachar and Navbharat was initiated by the Lokmat Group, which relaunched Lokmat Samachar as part of its ‘restructuring and repositioning' exercise at a price of Re1 from Rs 2.50 in the month of July. Rival group, Navbharat (spearheaded by Vinod Maheshwari) reacted by reducing the price of Navbharat and Navrashtra, triggering a price war in the process.

What is interesting to note here is that the Lokmat Group did not reduce the price of its flagship brand, Lokmat, which continues to sell at Rs 2.50 in and around Nagpur (on some days the paper costs Rs 3 as it comes with supplements). Commenting about the rationale behind this decision, Swaroop says "it wasn't required", since Lokmat is one of the largest circulating dailies, clocking a figure of 9.96 lakh copies besides being ranked as the sixth most widely ready newspaper by the recently released NRS 2002 (readership figure is 78.40 lakh). "There were better ways of channeling our resources rather than indulging in a price war around Lokmat," emphasises Swaroop. "We felt that our readers required a fresh experience with regard to Lokmat and its sister publications, which has been our core focus," he adds.

Of course, Swaroop's optimism is not misplaced. With a population of almost 25 lakhs, Nagpur is a burgeoning city in the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra that runs through the northwest part of the state. Nine districts make up this region with Nagpur being the hub of activity, much like Mumbai or Pune. The other eight districts include Chandrapur, Wardha, Akola, Buldhana, Gondia, Vashim, Yavatmal and Gadchiroli and in total, the population of Vidarbha is estimated to be more than a crore, which explains the significance of this region - and more specifically the district of Nagpur - in the publication's growth agenda.

The readership profile of Nagpur is a mix of Hindi, Marathi and English, with the language readers often switching between Hindi and Marathi causing frequent changes in circulation. Also, though predominantly Marathi, Hindi readership still accounts for a whopping 45 per cent making it imperative to tap this audience. Moreover, with an increasing ‘cosmopolitan' feel coupled with younger Maharashtrians flooding the city, the need of the hour was to not only address slipping circulation figures but to also catch the younger Maharashtrian and his family. This explains Lokmat's two-pronged strategy of repositioning the newspaper and cutting its price. Archrival Navbharat followed suit - by cutting both the price and the size of both Navbharat and Navrashtra to 27.5 inches.

Another interesting feature of the Nagpur market is that almost 90 to 95 per cent of the sales happen through subscriptions rather than on stands. With a reduction in price, analysts maintain, stand sales of both the Hindi dailies could have picked up, resulting in an overall improvement in their circulation figures.

The most notable characteristic of Nagpur is its dynamic print landscape with a number of players jostling for attention. Besides the Lokmat and Navbharat Groups, there is Loksatta, the Marathi daily from Indian Express, Tarun Bharat, the RSS-supported Marathi daily operated by a trust called Sri Narkesari Prakashan, Hitvada, an English daily and the newly-launched Marathi daily Nirmal Maharashtra. Also firming up plans to set foot on Nagpur soil is Dainik Bhaskar with a Hindi edition, and Deshonnati and Sakal, both popular Marathi dailies in Maharashtra.

With so much brewing in this part of Maharashtra, it is but a matter of time before the next round of the price war is set in motion. © 2002 agencyfaqs!