Subject: As American newspapers flail, Indian papers are on
the rise



http://www.hindu.com/thehindu/holnus/001200705281551.htm

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As American newspapers flail, Indian papers are on the rise


New Delhi, May. 28 (AP): Obituaries for newspapers are already being
written in the United States and much of Europe, with the rise of the
Internet and the shrinking of attention spans listed as the causes of
death.

But the news hasn't made it to India.

Here, more than 150 million people read a newspaper every day _
compared to 97 million Americans and 48 million Germans _ circulation
numbers are soaring, and advertising is expected to grow by 15 percent
this year.

The crowded Indian newsstand is a cacophony of scripts: In New Delhi,
papers are published in 15 languages, ranging from English and Hindi
to more regional tongues, such as southern India's Telugu language.

One popular New Delhi newspaper shop offers 117 Indian dailies laid
out like an all-you-can-read buffet with Bollywood stars, obscure
acronyms, market data and cricket scores jostling for space in every
paper.

Swaggering newspaper companies are betting that there's still more
room to grow _ especially in rural areas, where readership remains low
_ and are launching new papers and new editions across this country of
1.1 billion people.

The optimism is in large part due to India's rapidly growing economy,
expected to increase by 8 percent this year, and the rising incomes
and education levels that go with it.

The newspapers are also flourishing because India's media landscape
remains firmly rooted in the ink-stained 20th century, before the
Internet took hold or cable TV found its footing.

Despite a booming technology industry that's helped fuel economic
growth, only 8.5 million of Indians use the Web, according to
government figures. And even some who use computers don't see the
Internet usurping print.

``The feel of reading a newspaper is very different,'' said Hemant
Suri, a human resources consultant in New Delhi, as he browsed a
newspaper rack. ``The Internet cannot substitute.''

And while cable TV is growing quickly, it's still prohibitively
expensive for most Indian families _ especially next to newspapers,
which at just a few rupees, cost less than a cup of tea.

Private radio stations are barred by law from broadcasting news,
leaving newspapers as the preferred medium, both for the public and
for advertisers, say media experts.

Last year, Raju Narisetti left the Wall Street Journal, where he was
editor of the Europe edition, to launch a new business paper in India
published by a leading company, Hindustan Times Media Ltd. Narisetti
said the differences in business climates have been staggering.

In Europe, it was a good month when circulation and advertising
numbers didn't fall, he said.

``Here, I've sat in meetings where the CEO pounds his fist on the
table when the advertising guy says that it's going to be a 30 percent
increase in advertising,'' said Narisetti. ``It's a big shift in
mind-set to realize that it's a market where 30 percent growth is
considered just average.''

HT Media says its revenues are up 28 percent so far this fiscal year,
which runs from April to March, and earnings per share are up more
than 200 percent. While most Indian newspapers are privately owned,
analysts agree that other newspaper companies are seeing similar
profits.

In comparison, 2006 saw the first decline in American newspaper
revenue in a non-recession year, according to Morgan Stanley, whose
analysts predict 2007 will be just as difficult.

The Indian press currently reaches about 35 percent of the country's
adults, reports the World Association of Newspapers. In the U.S., 17
percent of people buy a daily newspaper, although most newspapers are
shared with at least one person, according to the Newspaper
Association of America.

Circulation of U.S. papers has dropped steadily over the past two
decades from 63 million in 1985 to 53 million in 2005, according to
the Newspaper Association of America. Readership is a higher number
because it measures the number of people who read newspapers.

In Britain, circulation has fallen 3 percent between 2001 and 2005,
while in Germany, it has fallen 11 percent over the same period,
according to the World Association of Newspapers.

India, however, has enormous potential. In a country where the adult
literacy rate is 61 percent, there are some 300 million literate
people who aren't reading newspapers _ yet. Observers expect both the
literacy rate and the number of newspaper readers to rise in coming
years.

The Indian press is vibrant and opinionated, if not always fully
reliable. Staples include lurid crime reports and stories of miracles
in far-off villages, while the ``Page 3'' gossip sections, celebrated
institutions at several papers, trumpet the latest starlet sightings.

One thing they all have in common: they're cheap. Priced at an average
of about 2 rupees (5 U.S. cents, 4 euro cents), just about everyone
can afford to read them.

``You end up spending more on a candy than a newspaper in India,''
said Anurag Batra, CEO of the marketing firm Exchange4Media.

The low prices also mean it's common for people to read up to four or
five newspapers a day.

Suri, a New Delhi resident, reads four newspapers every day _ and he's
the slacker in the family. His grandfather used to read 12.

``I read them just to get a flavor of what's happening across the
country,'' he said. ``There's a sheer joy of reading a newspaper.''

Much of the industry's growth has been in English newspapers, which
have become status symbols akin to washing machines, foreign cars, and
brand-name purses for the legions eager to join the ranks of the
urban, new India.

``A family might want to buy an English paper because they want to
show that they are upmarket and their lifestyle has improved,'' said
Bhupesh Trivedi, who runs the Indian Business Observer Web sites.

Roughly 11 million English newspapers are sold every day, while nearly
34 million Hindi papers are sold, according to India's Registrar of
Newspapers.

India's growing affluence is also reflected in the business media,
where at least five daily national business papers compete to feed a
new hunger for financial news.

Despite the boom-time fever surrounding the print business, few
believe that Indian newspapers can continue to grow forever.

``I have no doubt that the Indian media market will end up mimicking
the West in terms of newspapers ending up not growing at all and the
Internet becoming big,'' said Narisetti. ``But I think it's 10 or 15
years away.''

American or European newspaper executives wanting to lift their
spirits might want to chat with Nita Puri and her clients at her stand
of 117 newspapers.

``My morning coffee doesn't taste good if I don't have a newspaper to
read,'' she said.


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