Wednesday, 31 August, 2011

Breaking boundaries

At one time, certainly before 1990, there may have been a tacit understanding or even an agreement between newspaper publishers not to encroach on the each other’s territories, markets or languages. But the trend that began 20 years ago with what was considered predation then, has now flowered into a great expansion.

The newspaper industry in India over the last 21 years has grown well in almost all respects and matured in many just as the economy has. With a large parallel growth in literacy, it has weathered the privatisation and multiplicity of television news channels, as it takes advantage of the internet and gets ready for the convergent opportunities of a large base of cell-phones and a tiny but growing base of tablets. The key phenomenon has been expansion in circulation, new editions, more pages, more pages in colour, new media such as radio and television and new print media products as well.

In these years the first wave of FDI in newspapers has led to the first wave of foreign direct investment (FDI) and closely held family companies going to the stock market. Some consolidation has also taken place such as Bennett Coleman’s acquisition of the upstart Vijay Karnataka group and Jagran Prakashan’s acquisition of Mid Day Multimedia’s print assets. There have been fissures and cracks among owner families too, but what is significant is that in most cases they continue to work together while facing the market.

There is a new confidence amongst the Indian newspaper publishers which has erased the old linguistic and media boundaries. Every fast-growing newspaper group has crossed linguistic or geographic boundaries in the past ten years. No territory is sacrosanct as newspapers have to leverage their brands to survive.

It is also nice to see that there is a resurgence among some of the strong newspaper groups that had suffered setbacks in the past decade. Amongst these one sees the resurgence of the Rajasthan Patrika and Deccan Herald groups in winning back circulation and starting new editions as a reflection of the inherent strength of the Indian newspaper industry as a whole. 
Naresh Khanna

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