The Shimla Press Club is celebrating its silver jubilee this year. I must have been seven-year-old when the Shimla Press Club came about. That was also the age when I was introduced to newspapers at home. I thought only The Tribune existed in the English category and in the Hindi – Veer Pratap and Punjab Kesari. While no trace of Veer Pratap can be found today, Punjab Kesari is still going strong, with over a lakh copies circulated in entire Himachal Pradesh, and is the No.1 Hindi paper in the state.
Amongst English newspapers, The Tribune still is the most-circulated newspaper with a circulation of around 37,000 copies, as per Audit Bureau of Circulation (July-December, 2007). The No. 2 English newspaper – Hindustan Times is far behind with an average circulation of 6,575, and at No. 3 is The Times of India (around 6,000). Indian Express does not get itself audited. Over all, the circulation of newspapers (both English and Hindi) in Himachal Pradesh is not more than 3.5 lakh copies. That is a small number if you look at the educated population of Himachal Pradesh, which happens to be the second-most literate state (literacy rate: 77.13 %, as per 2001 Census) in India, after Kerala. The population of the state as per 2001 Census is 60,77,248.
Some newspapers may argue their number-game status on the basis of Readership, which differs from Circulation. Though, newspapers may cry hoarse that media planners do not account circulation figures, but go by the figures thrown by Indian Readership Survey done by MRUC (Media Research Users Council), I’ll still prefer to quote circulation figures as one, circulation figures are more authentic and are audited; and two, IRS is based more on a sample size, which may not reflect the true picture; and three, recently Hindi daily – Naidunia (an Indore – Madhya Pradesh, based paper) and Oriya daily, Pragativadi, have sued MRUC for putting readership much below their circulation. How can that be possible?
Any ways, coming back to the topic, the newspaper reading habit in Himachal was inculcated by Divya Himachal in the ’90s (which today is the third most circulated newspaper in the state, with a circulation of around 64,000 copies). While other newspapers focussed on national news and state politics, the newspaper carried local news, even though frivolous to an extent of the fights between saas-bahus or a cow giving birth to four calves. That created interest amongst local folks who would feel proud that their village was in the newspaper and look forward to the copy of the newspaper, which the rumbling bus would deliver in the afternoon or late evening.
Things have changed since then. Even villages get their copies early in the morning or latest by 10 AM. Improvement in infrastructure – roads and transportation has improved distribution of newspapers. Even the readers’ reading habits have changed. While Punjab Kesari still is enjoyed for its glamour quotient, Amar Ujala has taken over Divya Himachal. The latter while inculcated the reading habit, it also induced hunger in the reader fuelled by television penetration into the rural areas. Readers just didn’t want local news, they wanted to know more about the state politics and what was happening in the nation. For that Divya Himachal was insufficient. Amar Ujala catered that, and is still enjoying the first mover advantage. The big guys, Dainik Jagran and Dainik Bhaskar have not been able to catch up. While the former has a circulation of about 16,000, the latter which launched its Shimla edition recently, claims to have a print-run of about 25,000 copies.
Himachal till now was being served by newspapers by their Chandigarh or Dharamshala editions. Shimla as a printing centre was not looked at seriously. Only Divya Himachal had a Shimla edition prior to Dainik Bhaskar. Amar Ujala too (which currently serves Himachal from Dharamshala and Chandigarh) would be starting its Shimla edition in the next two months. Dainik Jagran too may come up with its bilingual compact daily i next in the next twelve months.
What’s making the newspapers look at Shimla seriously? It’s the retail growth and growing consumer power. When we talk about consumer power, it’s not about the ability to buy a newspaper, but buy luxuries and brands that need a vehicle to reach out to the consumer. According to a survey conducted by economics research firm, Indicus Analytics, while Shimla ranks ‘third’ in the best cities to ‘reside-in’, behind Kochi and Kozhikode; it ranks fourth on the ‘invest-in’ index, behind Silvassa, Coimbatore and Ludhiana.
As per R K Swamy BBDO Guide to Urban Markets, Shimla ranks fifth on the ‘Top 10 Towns demanding high priced Consumer Durables’ list. The consumer durables being colour TV, fridge, VCR, washing machine, music system, two-wheeler and car – priced over Rs 6,000. Shimla scores 497 per 1,000 on this list, which is lead by Chandigarh, Panaji, Vadodara, Guwahati and then Shimla. For the record, Delhi ranks seventh.
As cable penetration is low in rural areas, the only vehicle available for brands to reach consumers is the radio, or Doordarshan, as of now, and to some extent the newspaper. Newspapers cannot ignore this growing consumerism and the imminent need of the advertiser. Just look at Shimla. It’s got the brands coming in – Reebok with its exclusive store, Cafe Coffee Day, Barista, McDonald’s and more. The road-network is demanding cars and retail chains like Amartex are already there.
When The Tribune launched Himachal Plus, last year, it was evident that newspapers have realised the potential Himachal has in terms of readers and advertisers. However, it’s the big newspapers, with deep pockets like Hindustan Times and The Times of India who’ve not come up with supplements on the lines of HT City or Delhi Times. That’s perturbing. The answer usually from the editorial team is that “there is not enough news to fill up one single page, how are we going to fill up a supplement.” I wonder, how do Hindi newspapers fill up their pages then?
If these papers do come up with a Shimla City supplement, I’m sure the readers will lap up the newspaper. So where’s the editorial material for these supplements? If not entirely a Page 3 supplement, they can have a supplement on the lines of Express Newsline (of Indian Express), which covers local news and have one page (like the Talk page) for Page 3. Shimla has a lot of Page 3 material. With one or the other function going on at Kali Bari Hall, Gaiety Theatre, Hotel Holiday Home, Golf Course, Shimla Club, one or the other film shooting going on, some adventure sports, fashion shows and contests are always on – there’s lot of material for the pages. Yet all have turned a blind eye to this. While these events themselves can be big advertisers – I’m sure, if a local retailer can advertise on a local cable channel, he can advertise in these supplements as well. If still they believe that nothing is happening in Shimla, what are these dozens of event management companies doing in Shimla that have cropped up in the past two years? Moreover, can you ignore the youth? Shimla is an education hub with one of the best public schools. The entire Himachal youth comes to Shimla to pursue its graduation and post-graduation studies. Can we forget that there are private universities coming to Shimla like the Jaypee University. Education is one big advertiser.
The newspapers may have their reasons not to bring out a supplement as it may shoot up their printing costs, but the local cable channels and FM channels will certainly leverage on this. They may even tie-up as sponsors of these events. Newspapers certainly can take a cue from these channels. Meanwhile, they’ll have to find their niche. For example, the local advertising in these newspapers can come from local real estate and the education sector. They need not depend for government Tender advertisements only. DLF, Omaxe are planning to come in a big way into Himachal. The education sector too is on the rise. Newspapers cannot ignore Himachal any more. So happy reading.