MxM Mondays: Can regional dailies withstand the pressure from national biggies?

29 Oct,2012


By Ananya Saha



It’s not unusual that national dailies (or dailies which have a large footprint in the country) have tried to make a mark in markets where there have been strong, well-entrenched regional players. The Times of India, for instance, set up successfully in Bengaluru many years back, but found the story different with Deccan Chronicle in Hyderabad. In Chennai and Kolkata earlier, it did not outwit competition entirely, but was successful in shaking up the market.

Earlier this month, the TOI group enterted the Bengali newspaper market, taking on the Ananda Bazar Patrika group in possibly the country’s most culturally aware market.

But it is not about one newspaper group spreading its tentacles and the issue we are looking in MxM Mondays today is: Do regional newspapers have it in them to face the competition and clout of national newspapers. We spoke to a cross-section of industrypersons on the issue:

(in alphabetical order of their last names)




Anwesh Bose, Senior Vice President, DDB MudraMax Media

Anwesh Bose

The Times of India’s success in Bangalore has a lot to do with Bangalore evolving from a sleepy and quiet retirement paradise to a bulging at the seams metropolis. With Bangalore becoming a metropolis, the swell of urban to urban migration came prominently from Delhi and Mumbai wherein Times of India was already an established brand. The resident Bangalorean is still not satisfied without his Deccan Herald and coffee. Barring this example Times of India has not been able to create a significant dent among any other regional market. The trend of emergence of regional parties (Didi, Amma, Behenji, Nitish ji, Karuna ji, Mulayam ji, Patnaik ji, Abdulla ji, etc) who are calling the shots in the country also mirror the fact that not only are regional entities more relevant than they ever were but are here to stay & dominate. India as a country was, is & will remain to be culturally diverse and local will always be more prevalent than national. To conclude, Vijay Vani is already on its way to unseat the position of Vijay Karnataka… keep watching!

Mitrajit Bhattacharya, President-Publisher, Chitralekha Group

Mitrajit Bhattacharya

I think we should not look at it from the individual brand point of view.

It is actually more from the portfolio point of view from the groups, for example, the English traditional groups like the TOI are expanding into regional markets. Similarly, regional biggies are launching in English. ABP group has launched magazines and got licences for magazines like Fortune. The larger groups are getting larger, and are consolidating by having as many products to cover all the gaps in their portfolio. It is not as simple as saying that the regional biggies are outdoing the English biggies or the English biggies are outdoing the regional biggies.


If you really look at the percentage of advertising which the English media garners vis-à-vis their readership, it’s totally lopsided compared to the regional media players. Now the thing is that even if the regional player has much larger readership, they still get much lesser advertising. This was the traditional format. It also happened in television. This format is changing and regional players with their smart marketing moves in the last five years have started garnering a lot more advertising than they used to get probably 5-10 years ago. That shift is happening and that shift will sharpen.


Now there is another point. It is also happening because the tier 2 and tier 3 towns are becoming more and more critical in the marketing mix of most organisations. So when tier 2 and 3 cities become more important the regional players’ share of advertising is bound to go up.


Manajit Ghoshal, MD & CEO, Midday Infomedia Ltd.

Manajit Ghoshal

I am a firm believer in the saying ‘Change is the only constant’. As much as some of our predecessors in the media would like us to believe that brand loyalty is sacrosanct (especially in newsprint reading habits), I beg to differ. Yes, newspaper reading is a habit-forming phenomenon, but like all other things, this is changing and it’s changing at an accelerating pace.


The English print readers are migrating to digital. The newly educated in vernacular languages are adding to the regional language print readership, but these readers are going to be increasingly brand neutral. The regional newspapers have an increasingly older readership profile and these newspapers need to reinvent themselves if they are to appeal to the regional youth as they once appealed to their forefathers.


Having said that, the national newspapers will have to spend huge sums of capital to break the iron grip that some of the regional newspapers have over their markets. The financial resources and the timelines required to do this is naturally an entry barrier and will give some breathing space to the regional newspapers to catch up, but not for long.


The national newspapers have clearly realized that they cannot have ‘one size fits all’ type of content and are playing this round smartly by having increasingly localized content and are challenging the hyper-local content strategy of regional newspapers by playing their own game and beating the regional newspapers through bigger and better resources.


It is up to the regional newspapers to invest in their brands and protect their turf, but the consolidation game has already started in right earnest and it might already be too late for them.


Bharat Kapadia, Chairman, Whatuwant Solutions, and Founder at

Bharat Kapadia

We do not have any real national newspaper in India. One shouldn’t confuse regional languages with regional papers. Among English language papers, TOI has done very well but it is 5-6 editions that are significant, and it just barely features in the top 10 read newspapers. TOI had started a Gujarati newspaper which they closed down. Their Maharashtra edition is growing well now. In Western countries, for example in the USA , Wall Street Journal will have a national presence but everywhere else it will be NY Times, LA Times Chicago Tribune and so on. There was no national newspaper till the time USA Today was launched!


Speaking of the advertising trend, about 10 years ago, 70-80 percent of advertising went to English newspapers even when English newspapers had limited editions and readership. Today, this percentage stands has come down at less than 60 percent for English newspapers. Surprisingly DAVP also gives importance to English newspapers which as per their policy have to get 30 percent ads and at a premium. Hindi gets 35 percent and all the regional newspapers put together get 35 percent of their advertisements, which is ridiculous.


However, the growth of tier II and III cities, and lower penetration of English (less than 5 percent) will result in advertising buck to follow the regional newspapers. Literacy levels are also rising. When the person gets literate, the chances are it will be in his/her own regional language. Hence, you see, unlike anywhere else in the world, regional newspapers are growing in India when it comes to readership and circulation.


For me, it is definitely in favour of regional media for some time at least.


Basant Rathore, Vice President-Strategy, Brand and BD, Jagran Prakashan Ltd

Basant Rathore

To my mind, there is no one national newspaper in India. There are papers that are available in various languages addressing individual markets and audience segments within each individual market.


If we were to structure the print market, there are there are the South states, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Punjab, West Bengal, Orissa, Assam and North East. Then we have the Hindi belt comprising UP, UT, Bihar, Jharkhand, MP, Chhattisgarh, Punjab, Haryana, J&K, HP, Delhi, Rajasthan – this is by far the largest geographical belt, and the Hindi papers have the highest readership in India. Five of the Top 10 papers of India are in Hindi. The reach of any Hindi daily is 3.4 X of the next language – and this No 2 language is not English. Marathi and Malayalam dailies have a higher reach than English. So therefore, this entire segmentation of newspapers into National and Regional dailies has no basis.


Over the last few years, there has been a significant amount of marketing attention shifting to the tier 2 and tier 3 markets. As benefits of development percolate down the tiers, interest in different geographies is increasing. Marketers want to reach out to a wider market and media that reach these markets are the natural choices. Therefore, these markets will have competition across sectors.


Having said that, each newspaper has its own strengths, on the basis of which it competes. Today there are brand leaders in different languages and different geographies – all of them have a connect with their readers and their marketing strategies are something that are customized based on the individual market conditions. So when a brand which operates in a particular geography launches the brand in another market, to my mind, there is a level competitive playing field for all. Each brand would leverage its existing strength, and the reader chooses to buy the brand or brands he/she wants. So when a so-called “national newspaper” launches in a “regional stronghold” of another daily, it’s competition as usual. Eventually, the brand that strikes a better local cultural connect will win and just credentials alone aren’t enough to guarantee success.




Anita Nayyar, CEO, Havas Media, India & South Asia

Anita Nayyar

The answer is: Yes and No, It depends (on the approach and method). Newspapers as a medium form a relationship and habit patterns with readers. Also here you don’t have a new one dropping in every day as it does in your inbox, so you open it once in a way.


Culturally, India is diverse and its languages without the dialects are vast; 438 as per the Economist. IRS has consistently shown how the top five publications and dailies are not English. Tier 2 and 3 cities are new ports even for luxury brands with their old wealth and new-age entrepreneurs.


Today marketing is getting more footprint-mandated and more segmented as brands are launching many sub-brands catering to these segments to increase revenue and market share. Print traditionally is sustained by this advertising. This is a climate all publications are very aware of. Growth is coming from regional markets, making the national biggies focus on these and in the process expand their footprint. Smaller towns are becoming welcome targets for brands and their consumption is leading to market expansions which are a welcoming sign for publications to reach and target.


Hindustan Times (HT) when only in Delhi did not have the geographical reach and lost in advertising economies of scale to Times of India (TOI). Even the south-based Hindu has focused on increasing its Delhi readership as essential to command ad-rates and advertiser perception. So many major publications will use the strategy to go across and cross region; but readership will belong to those who are able forge either a relevant position or sufficient connect with the customer.


TOI in Bangalore focused on the incoming new audience at the time of the IT boom, its inherent position of youthful and buzzing rendering a profitable mix with the upcoming economic and cultural mindset. The south, however, becomes complicated with its languages and dialects. In Hyderabad, TOI has not been able to penetrate the landscape to reach number 1 while local publications, even new ones launched like Sakshi, are doing well. Even the regional biggies have multiple editions to penetrate the cities, not such an easy infrastructure to follow.


Anand Business Patrika’s Kolkata-based Telegraph has used a regional strategy in its expansion focusing on the east so it has established many roots to be severed before it is de-throned. Ei Samay in Kolkota has definitely made an impact with the shift of some of the editorial team, launch at 79 pages and TOI bundled add on packaging of Rs.150-Rs.200 making it most lucrative. But ABP too has responded in a way it has not done before, by dropping rates and being open to deals even in an approaching festive season when ad sales, down this year are expected to pick up.


Yes, Hindu is the Mount Road Maha Vishnu, but TOI is the old lady of Bori Bunder and she did ‘awaken’ the Lord to an aggressive ‘Good Morning Chennai’; but also, she learnt, has muscle and a flexible attitude. The recent Kerala TOI launch with elephants was theatrical but then TOI does know how to get heard. It also knows how to get inventive, readers can save Rs 50 per month by subscribing to TOI and Mathrubhumi, packaging English and Malyalam, a good idea for a family speaking both. Also the old lady attracts innovation – the aromatic coffee newspaper with ‘Bru’ and ‘Hide & Seek’ or the newspapers with a voice by Volkswagen.


Hence my answer, ‘Yes and No, It depends’. Either way neither national dailies nor regional biggies can afford to get complacent but will have to be aggressive, proactive and inventive to protect their territories or make the break-through, and it will be over time.


Relevance is a very important factor here. Talk to me in my language and you become more relevant. Be present in my environment and you have more retention, customise to my needs and you find a place in my life and get a share of my wallet. This is what brands need to do irrespective of whether it is a publication or any other product category.


PN Vasanti, Director, CMS India

PN Vasanti

I do not see the difference between regional and national biggies. There is no difference when it comes to tactics, strategies, and manoeuvring. It is only that regional newspapers have local advantage, which national newspapers miss. We are in competition era and in media space for next generation everybody will try to establish themselves. And survival of the fittest is going to matter. Everybody, hence, will try to launch as many products to see where they can survive and fit, and where they cannot.


There will be competition. But where there is enough market potential, one will have to enter otherwise one would not be able to survive.


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