English newspapers are in trouble and Hindi, Malaylam, Marathi and Telugu are the boom markets. This among other things is what data released by the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) throws up. The newspaper market in India, contrary to global trends, just keeps growing.
In the 7 year period from 2006 to 2012 the total number of paid copies certified by the ABC, rose by over 10 million to hit 48.29 million. If you take unpaid circulation into account then the total goes well over 100 million copies making India the second largest newspaper market in the world after China.
The ABC, which certifies the circulation for 678 editions of various member publications, recently changed its system. Its press release on that gives a very comprehensive picture of circulation growth. Add readership numbers to it and three things about the daily newspaper market in India jump at you (see tables).
One, English newspapers have hardly grown on any parameter. The time spent on English papers has fallen by over 6.5 per cent between 2006 and 2012. So unless they can reinvent themselves for the digital age, English newspapers will go the American way.
Two, Indian language newspapers, especially Hindi, Malayalam, Marathi and Telugu are seeing some phenomenal growth. This is evident from the growth in both copies and readers. But more important is the ratio of readers per copy sold. In most of these languages it has started falling, indicating that less people are sharing newspapers and many are now buying their own copy. That means rising purchasing power and price inelasticity. Remember that language papers are typically more expensive than English.
Three, the Bangla market inspite of all the rock and roll by the Times of India and ABP Group remains largely static. Neither circulation nor readership seems to have jumped substantially. It may also be because the big brands were probably not part of the audit period which these numbers represent. Newspaper publishers jumping in and out of ABC according to their whims is a huge issue in reading circulation data. Since advertising and media agencies which use the data do not insist on audited numbers, most publishers get away with it.
However ABC's latest attempt aims to bring transparency to the system. Instead of allowing newspaper and magazine publishers to choose from a panel of 75 odd auditors anywhere in India, it now gives them a choice of three.
This, says Hormuzd Masani, ABC's secretary general, puts the ABC firmly in charge. By offering a panel of three names, ABC ensures that the same auditor does not carry out the audit of the same publication as well as competitor's auditor is not offered for selection, thus ensuring an independent audit. For example the firm auditing the circulation of Dainik Jagran or which did one of Dainik Bhaskar is not offered in the panel of three audit firms to either paper.
A streamlined metric will help. But more than that newspapers, especially the English ones, need to seriously start looking at digital platforms to keep the growth going.