Alokananda Chakraborty

Sandesh spruces up

The 80-year old newspaper shows no signs of letting up and plans to give away “prizes worth lakhs” as part of its eightieth anniversary celebrations

One could call it the ripple effect. Dainik Bhaskar announces its imminent entry into Ahmedabad, Gujarat; old-timer and regional player Gujarat Samachar unleashes a revamp exercise and now, Sandesh, the third angle in the triune is readying itself for battle royale.

The 80-year old paper with a readership of 49.64 lakh, according to round 10 of the Indian Readership Survey or IRS, has plans to improve its layout, increase the number of colour pages and supplements, which will be targeted at "different segments of society". "The paper basically will sport a newer and fresher look, keeping its core strengths intact," says Falgun Patel, CMD, The Sandesh Limited.

What however remains relatively unchanged in the revamp plans of both Sandesh and Gujarat Samachar, whose readership according to round 10 of the IRS stands at 50.5 lakh, is the content, which according to observers of the Gujarati market, has been skewed (in the case of both papers) towards sensationalism. "News has been good, but credibility at times is questionable," says a senior media observer. "They are high on sensationalism, though not communalism," he adds.

Which explains Bhaskar's optimism despite being acutely aware that the Ahmedabad market is fairly saturated. "They have, in effect, agreed to enter the market, as the No 3 publication, which speaks volumes about the existing players. I doubt whether they would have ventured into Gujarat without knowing where they are heading," says a media analyst based in Mumbai.

But Patel of Sandesh would like to point out some inherent weaknesses in the "new entrant's" strategy. "Ahmedabad is fairly saturated in the socio-economic classes of A, B and C. So any new entrant's initial print run is possible through two routes: SEC D and E households that borrow and read the paper and as a second option in households that are buyers of the existing product."

"Gujaratis," he claims, "are keen to try out something new, but are faster in discarding it after the initial run. Order booking and luring lower income groups will not be the true indicator of success. The real challenge will be in sustaining the product."

The circulation of Sandesh in Ahmedabad stands at 3.01 lakh while archrival Gujarat Samachar clocked a circulation of 3.02 lakh in the city (as per ABC for the period of July-December 2002).

Apart from this, horizontal growth via expansion in other cities of the state could also be a challenge for Bhaskar considering the five-city (Sandesh) and six-city (Gujarat Samachar) spread of the two main papers and the presence of city-centric players, crowding the overall print landscape.

For starters, there is Phulchhab in Rajkot (figures for the last two periods of 2002 are not available, however for July-December 2001, the paper's circulation stood at 85,000 copies); Gujarat Mitr, published out of Surat, with a circulation of 90,991 copies, according to ABC for the period of Jul-December 2002; Kutch Mitr based in Bhuj with a circulation of 39,406 copies; Nobat based in Jamnagar with a circulation of 23,204 copies; Saurashtra Samachar based in Bhavnagar with a circulation of 42,375 copies; Saanz Samachar, an eveninger from Rajkot with a circulation of 51,521 copies; Jaihind, published from Ahmedabad and Rajkot whose circulation according to the previous period of January-December 2002 stood at 1.07 lakh (the current period has not been certified); and last but not the least, Express group's Loksatta-Jansatta, published out of Ahmedabad, with a circulation of 47,992 copies.

As a marketing executive in a rival Gujarati paper quips, "It won't be easy for Bhaskar in Gujarat." Though, it is early days regarding Divya Bhaskar's ability to stand the test of time, Patel of Sandesh is excited that "competition can actually make you grow".

The group plans to install state-of-the-art printing facilities to give better printing output and more options in terms of colour pages, he says. At the same time, to usher in its eightieth anniversary celebrations, the group has planned a number of activities this year, which provides an opportunity for a Sandesh reader to "win prizes worth lakhs".

"This year is going to be exciting," he states. Whether Bhaskar can pull off a coup similar to the one in neighbouring Rajasthan or traditional players Sandesh and Gujarat Samachar retain their edge, only time will tell. © 2003 agencyfaqs!

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