August 30, 2009 10:51 pm

Dainik Jagran sees continued growth

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An Indian regional newspaper is managing to increase circulation by attracting a rising number of politically engaged and literate people, at a time when global newspaper sales are falling.

Dainik Jagran, a Hindi language daily, has a circulation of 2.3m, according to the latest Indian Readership Survey. This comes on the back of the growing dominance in the country of Hindi language newspapers – four of the five most widely read newspapers in the country are in Hindi, a language that is spoken by 41 per cent of the country’s 1.2bn people.

“In the last three years [we] have seen rising literacy levels in [India’s most populous and poor] states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar – which are key market drivers for us,” said Sanjay Gupta, editor and chief executive officer of Dainik Jagran, which translates as The Truth.

Robin Jeffrey, an academic and author of India’s Newspaper Revolution, said that “politics and consumer capitalism” were the main driving factors of the growth of Hindi language newspapers, which have boomed from fewer than 8m copies in the early 1990s to 80m today.

“Politicised people seek information. Politically mobilised classes have expanded – [such as] the Bahujan Samaj Party [which represents lower caste groups],” said Mr Jeffrey.

“Proprietors and advertisers at the same time have sought more eyes across their products so they have localised content and pushed newspapers into the countryside.”

India – home to more than 150m English speakers – has also seen a growing demand for English-language titles, as poorer people seek to learn the language. However, a lack of distribution and marketing networks has been a serious roadblock for English daily newspapers getting through to rural areas.

“English is still a language spoken in the metropolitan towns and that is why we tend to do well in towns with a population of up to a million,” said Mr Gupta. The Centre for Media Studies, a Delhi-based think-tank, said in a report that one of Dainik Jagran’s strengths is its 208 sub-editions, which helps it “meet the different requirements and adapt to the colloquial tastes of each region”.

Non-English dailies have also benefited from improved literacy rates. According to government estimates, only 35 per cent of Indians could read in 1976; the number has almost doubled today, and rising youth literacy, now at 82 per cent, assures that the ranks of readers are likely to swell in future.

In spite of a slowing economy, Dainik Jagran reported a near 15 per cent rise in advertising revenues in the last quarter. This was helped by an increase in political party advertisements placed ahead of this year’s general elections.

However, the Indian regional newspaper market is far from reaching saturation, as the IRS estimates that there are about 150m educated people in central and north India who still do not read any publication.

Angel Broking, a Mumbai-based brokerage, estimates that Hindi language dailies should continue seeing revenue growth of 15 per cent on a quarterly basis.

Investors too have pushed up the stock of publishing company Jagran Prakashan, as shares have jumped 54 per cent since the start of the year, outperforming other big players. However, it has lagged the Bombay Stock Exchange’s benchmark Sensex, which rose 64 per cent this year.

Independent News & Media, a Dublin-based Media group, has a 13.5 per cent stake in Jagran Prakashan.

Experts feel that the biggest challenge ahead of the regional language newspapers such as Dainik Jagran is the lack of investment in building the fundamentals of professional journalism. “It is this which ultimately, is what builds reader’s trust and at the same time leaves readers better informed and educated,” said Mr Jeffrey.

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