Indian Newspapers Thrive with Economy

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

The onslaught of digital media in the developed countries of the world regularly brings pronouncements of the death of the traditional newspaper. But this assumption of digital triumph misses out on the reality in countries across the global South.

As incomes rise and literacy levels go up, so does the desire to consume news and information. And while many are jumping straight to online and mobile phone sources, just as many are enjoying more traditional print media offerings like magazines and newspapers.

India boasts both a fast-growing economy and the largest number of paid-for newspapers in the world. The print media industry in India has seen phenomenal growth since 2005, with the number newspaper titles increasing by 40 percent to 2,700 (World Association of Newspapers). The two factors driving this growth in newspapers are rising literacy and a booming economy

The World Association of Newspapers found China leads the world for newspaper subscribers, with 93.5 million readers a day. India is second. It is estimated the Indian newspaper industry will generate US $3.8 billion in revenues in 2010, a 13 percent growth rate over the last five years.

Estimates place growth in the newspaper industry in the next four years at 9 percent a year, to US $5.9 billion (KPMG).

Part of the reason India is defying the decline in newspaper numbers and readership seen in developed countries is poor internet penetration across the country. Because of this, only 7 percent of the population uses the web for information. And the country’s high number of illiterates (just 65 percent of the population can read) means even if many could afford a newspaper, they couldn’t use it.

According to Amar Ambani, head of research at India Infoline Group, “Unlike the West where the internet publishing and advertising has significantly hit the print media, the Internet threat to print media is still in its nascent stage in India, given the low penetration of computers and adequate bandwidth across the country.”

Newspapers are also growing in a highly competitive market exploding with new television channels on cable and satellite and other media distractions like mobile phone applications.

The newspapers (http://www.world-newspapers.com/india.html) are a strong reflection of how much the economy has changed in the past decade. They contain advertisements for property, mobile phones, cars and dating services.

Cost is also a critical element in their success: at only four rupees each (US $0.09 cents), many Indians buy several newspapers at a time for their home. The publications are able to charge so little because of the health of the advertising revenue coming in. Newspaper advertising in India increased by 30 percent between January and Match 2010 alone, the quickest jump in ads for the Asia-Pacific region (Nielsen India).

There is a hierarchy in the newspaper industry: English-language newspapers attract wealthier readers and can charge the most for advertising. But rising literacy rates combined with increasing personal wealth is fuelling growth in regional papers written in local languages. India has 22 official languages and English as an associate language. The country as a whole has about 33 different languages and over 2,000 local dialects. Hindi newspaper circulation rose from 8 million in the early 1990s to over 25 million in 2009.

The Times of India (http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com) is now the world’s largest circulation English-language newspaper, with 4 million readers. It uses this success to charge 10 times what regional papers can for advertising. At present, the regional newspapers’ bread-and-butter is mostly government-paid advertising.

But if trends continue as they are, then the tables will turn on big beasts like the Times of India. Regional papers will grow as people look for an opportunity to read in their own local language.

Flush with cash and confidence, Indian newspapers are also innovating new ways to advertise untried in other countries. Talking ads attached to the actual newspaper’s back pages caused a great stir when they were trialled in India recently (http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/greenslade/2010/sep/28/newspapers-advertising). The talking ads for a car company delivered a sales pitch but also alarmed and annoyed many people because the talking ad wouldn’t stop talking.

Ambani puts the success of the Indian newspaper industry down to five factors: the economic boom in semi-urban and rural India; growing local content; more opportunity to grow the number of readers; rising advertising spending; and rising literacy as a result of rising secondary school enrolment. He believes students aged between 10 and 15 are getting the newspaper habit and they represent huge future growth in newspaper readers.

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