Most English dailies in India registered a drop in circulation during January-June 2009, according to figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC). Of the 52 editions of various dailies that were surveyed, only seven, including two editions of the same newspaper, registered a higher circulation compared with the previous round of ABC. In comparison, during July-December 2008, 20 editions of the 49 surveyed, had registered an increase in circulation. ABC releases circulation data every six months and different editions of newspapers are reported separately.
While newspapers around the world have seen falling circulation for years, India’s print industry had bucked the trend, helped in part by relatively low (but growing) broadband and Internet penetration and a strategy that used growing advertising revenue to subsidize the cost of the newspaper for readers. National dailies in English can be bought off the newsstand for as low as Rs2 per copy.
Such a widespread fall in circulation, which hasn’t spared the country’s mightiest publishers, comes even as early signs of structural shifts are being seen. The Times of India launched a weekend newspaper at a relatively high cover price–Rs6–and Amazon’s Kindle e-reader is expected to start selling in India in a week’s time. Kindle will help publishers distribute the newspaper to readers at no marginal cost per copy. It is another matter that it will be a few years before there is any meaningful level of adoption of e-readers such as Kindle.
Deccan Chronicle, whose nine editions are reported together by ABC, is the only major newspaper to have reported a higher circulation–13.33 lakh to 13.49 lakh. Other newspapers to report a higher circulation during this round are Nagaland Post, Dimapur, Assam Tribune, Patna & Ranchi edition of Hindustan Times, Hitavada, Nagpur and Hyderabad and Nagpur editions of The Times of India.
“There was never a doubt that the trend that we have seen globally–that of falling newspaper circulation and readers migrating online–would come to India, too,” said Smita Jha, associate director at the entertainment and media practice of consultant PricewaterhouseCoopers. “Timing of this trend was the only question. It was also clear that it would first appear in the national, English language print media. That is just what has happened.”
Jha said the regional language newspapers will continue to grow sales for much longer as there were untapped markets available to increase penetration. Also, a degrowth in circulation should not be equated with a degrowth in revenues, she pointed out. “The rate of revenue growth has slowed, but most national English newspapers are still making a profit,” she said.
While many newspapers had taken steps to control pagination in view of high newsprint prices that prevailed during the period under review, it’s unlikely that newspapers deliberately controlled circulation as well, Jha said, in response to a question. “At least we haven’t seen anything like that.”
If the industry wisdom that business publications sell less during a market slump is true, it probably partly explains why business dailies have, without exception, lost sales.
The complete chart of the performance of English dailies is below. Here’s how some of the leading titles performed (Circulation figures are rounded off. For complete figures, see chart below):
Bangalore Mirror dropped 29.79% to 88,350 copies. Business Standard saw lower circulation in all 11 editions that were surveyed, and in New Delhi, where it had the highest circulation, the business daily saw an 18% drop in circulation to 26,461 copies.
Mysore Bangalore-headquartered Deccan Herald saw circulation fall by 6.89% to 2.14 lakhs.
The Hindu Business Line saw a 5% drop in circulation to 1.63 lakh copies.
All eight editions of The Economic Times saw declining circulation. In Mumbai, where the paper had the highest circulation, it fell 11.76% to 2.03 lakh copies.
Chennai-headquartered The Hindu saw a 6.39% drop in circulation. The daily, which is printed in 12 centres, now sells 13.6 lakh copies.
The New Indian Express saw a decline of 10.4% in circulation and now sells 3.09 lakh copies.
The Statesman in Kolkata saw a marginal drop in circulation to 1.66 lakh copies, while the New Delhi edition of the paper fell 11.92% to 6,187 copies.
The Telegraph saw a 4.09% decline in circulation to 4.65 lakh copies.
The Times of India in Bangalore, Mangalore and Mysore saw a 4.4% decline to 4.83 lakh copies. The paper saw declining circulation in greater Mumbai (-6.73%), Lucknow (-13.89%) and New Delhi (-10.5%), while circulation rose in Nagpur (16.7%) and Hyderabad (4.41%). Figures for the Pune edition were unavailable while there was no half year-ago figure for Ahmedabad, where the paper now sells 1.90 lakh copies.