Call it the back to basics revolution if you will, but in this so-called age of the internet and cable television, India is witnessing a strange phenomenon. Defying international trends, the Indian newspaper industry is actually witnessing a healthy growth rate. Slow penetration and the cost factor have ensured that electronic media continue to play second fiddle to print. With industry eager to tap into the booming consumer market through print advertisements, Indian newspapers are engaged in a fierce contest to grab a part of the advertising pie. The epicentre of this raging media battle is presently the financial and entertainment capital of Bombay.
The Times of India (TOI) has enjoyed a virtual monopoly in the city, with daily sales of more than half a million copies. Distant runner-up Mid-Day, an afternoon tabloid, manages a circulation figure of one-third of that. Given that it was the only major Indian metro that lacked a “second newspaper culture,” and given the large influx of English-reading migrants into the city, Bombay was ideally placed for a media outbreak.
The biggest challenge to the dominance of the TOI will come from the soon to be launched Daily News and Analysis, or DNA. The unusually named daily is backed by established companies in print and television like Dainik Bhaskar and Zee. DNA has a pre-launch kitty of INR 600 million and a war chest of INR 6 billion to combat the Times for the next four to five years. The paper’s confidence seems to come from the fact that it is headed by former Times marketing chief Pradeep Guha, widely acknowledged as having scripted that paper’s phenomenal marketing success across India. Guha now aims to unseat his old employer from its cozy Bombay nest.
Still a month and a half from its launch, DNA has already taken over the cityscape with a high intensity pre-launch campaign that includes over 500 billboards. “It is for the first time that the Times is facing the heat,” says DNA marketing director Suresh Balakrishnan. But TOI, veteran of many a battle, is not taking the challenge lying down. It recently launched Mumbai Mirror, a tabloid aimed at deflecting competition and moving ad rates south, to hurt upstarts like DNA.
Actually, DNA is just one of the many newspapers seeking to storm the Times citadel. Its main competitor elsewhere in India, Hindustan Times (HT) launches its Bombay edition on the first of July. With TOI having seriously eroded HT’s domination in Delhi of late, the latter now intends to return the favour in Bombay. The Indian Express, too, plans a massive INR 2.5 billion infusion into its Bombay operations, which includes an upgrade of its marketing department. Finally, The Telegraph of Calcutta has plans to enter Bombay.
It is a battle of epic proportions that will be played out over the next few months in Bombay as half a dozen newspapers woo readers and capture parts of the INR 815 crore annual print ad pie.
This impending war, of course, spells goods news for the English newspaper reader. From a daily diet of a single newspaper, he will now graduate to having an entire buffet to choose from. Prices too will fall – from the four rupees that a Times of India copy costs today, to one or two rupees, which is the price being promised by new players. As for journalists, Bombay has sucked up every available editor, reporter, sub-editor and sub-reporter. For a profession in which salaries have always been much below those in the services industry, it’s a sudden take-off. On average, salaries have increased 30 to 40 percent, and some papers are even doubling pay packages to retain employees.
As for who will win this media war of Bombay, some experts believe that there might be no big losers at all. TOI’s efforts to overtake HT in Delhi resulted in the entire market growing between 1996 and 2004, and the same could happen in Mumbai. Girish Agarwal, director of Dainik Bhaskar, believes that there is great scope for expansion. “Some seven lakh copies of English newspapers are sold in Mumbai, less than half of Delhi’s 15 lakh. Obviously the potential is huge,” he says. Says DNA’s Guha, “There is a market, there are advertisers ready to explore new avenues, and there are readers.” He is confident that his paper will help expand the pie and not only eat into the existing one.
Mid-Day’s chief financial officer Manajit Ghosal is understandably not ga-ga over the new entrants’ prospects. He believes that they will have to rack up circulations of at least two hundred thousand copies a year to gain a foothold in Bombay, and this may not be an easy task for all. For the moment though, there is an electric air of anticipation in Bombay as readers look forward to greater choice, better quality and cheaper rates.