Newspaper executives in the US or Europe can only fantasize about the problems confronting their Indian peers: how to source the extra newsprint for rising circulations and catch the eye of the millions of new readers each year.
Chennai and Kolkata are a long way from Boston and Washington, where two of the best-known US titles were sold this month – the Boston Globe for only $70 million, less than a tenth of the price the paper fetched a decade ago.
In India, first-year students still peruse the monsoon-damp pages of The (Calcutta) Telegraph and proprietors wage newspaper wars from Hyderabad to Lucknow to snatch their share of a growing cohort of readers. Last year was seen in the industry as exceptionally tough – because newspaper and magazine revenues rose only 7 percent as the country's economy slowed.
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"Yes, but we are used to 15 percent growth," says DD Purkayastha, chief executive of ABP, one of India's largest media groups. "Advertising growth has also been fairly handsome in the past decade."
This is a country with hundreds of profitable daily newspapers in a plethora of languages. Dainik Jagran (Daily Awakening), a Hindi newspaper that is the top-selling daily, boasts a readership of more than 16 million.
"Profits even in slower times like these seem to be holding up," says Jehil Thakkar, head of media and entertainment at KPMG in India. "They are down from the boom years, but they are still within 8-14 percent [for after-tax profit margins]."
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In the US, newspaper advertisement revenues have fallen every year since 2005 and at $22.3 billion last year are now less than half what they were then, according to the Newspaper Association of America.
India's population of 1.3 billion is not only growing but also becoming more literate. Print continues to take the lion's share of media advertising – 46 percent or Rs150 billion ($2.4 billion) of the total advertising pie of Rs327 billion, according to a report published by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry and KPMG. Over the next five years, Indian print advertising revenues are forecast to grow at more than 10 percent annually.
The latest driver of newspaper circulation is a push by media groups into vernacular languages and hitherto neglected towns and villages. Average newspaper penetration in India is low at 14-15 percent, says Mr Purkayastha, but while in cities, penetration exceeds 70 percent, in the countryside it is as low as 5 percent. "Those people are getting literate and they have started reading newspapers."
Manas Ghosh, editor of the 10-year-old Bengali-language edition of The Statesman, a Kolkata daily dating back to 1875, says Indian papers have begun championing local causes and reporting local affairs to attract new readers. His paper backed the vociferous (and successful) campaign against the building of a Tata Motors car factory on Bengali farmland to make the Nano, a small car now assembled in Gujarat on the other side of the country.
"The strength of vernacular dailies in India is the strength of the coverage given to districts, which is not done by the English dailies," he says.