Circulation battles in Bihar: Dainik Bhaskar inches close to the top
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Circulation battles in Bihar: Dainik Bhaskar inches close to the top

The latest readership figures shine a light on household consumption and affordability patterns.

By Anand Vardhan

Published on :

It’s a familiar sight in Bihar’s capital. Major roads in Patna are flanked with hoardings of circulation battles being fought by Hindi dailies. Last week, this race for print leadership reached the front-pages of the country’s leading English daily.

That’s country’s second most read daily, Dainik Bhaskar, flaunting its climb to the second position in circulation figures in Bihar. It is breathing down the neck of Hindustan, a part of The Hindustan Times group and the market leader in the state. Dainik Bhaskar’s rise to the second position has come at the cost of the country’s most read daily Dainik Jagran, which has now been pushed to the third spot in the state, though with a very thin lead. Bihar-Jharkhand centred daily Prabhat Khabar is placed at the fourth position.

It would be relevant to note here that English newspapers with a sizeable presence in the state like The Times of India, The Hindustan Times and The Telegraph don’t figure in the top four most-read dailies in the state.

The newspaper circulation scene in the state has attracted the attention of media analysts as well as scholars for long and for different reasons. However, the last two decades have seen these numbers, and demographic attributes linked to them used aggressively by Hindi dailies to attract advertisers keen on leveraging the consumerist surge in the state. More on this later.

The latest readership figures are based on a survey conducted by Hansa Research, a Mumbai-based global market research agency. The body also partners Media Research Users Council (MRUC) in conducting Indian Readership Survey (IRS).

The latest survey has used the New Consumer Classification System (NCCS), replacing socio-economic classification (SEC), for the survey. The NCCS is considered a better indicator of household consumption and affordability patterns of a range of goods and services. Print, as well as broadcasting media industries, have of late adopted NCCS as the method to study readership as well as viewership.

The survey was conducted last month in 13 towns and cities (urban areas with a population of more than one lakh), including Patna that has a population of more than 20 lakh. The sample size of respondents was 2,085, and the survey included personal interviews and a structured questionnaire.

Here are some of the important figures that emerged from the readership survey. The survey revealed a close contest among the top players. Hindustan retains its leadership in the state with a narrow margin, Dainik Bhaskar comes second. The gap between the top two and the third position holder Dainik Jagran isn’t significant.

The age and gender profile is crucial for not only social factors but also for how advertisers promote their products and services.  For instance, advertisers will take note of the fact that 47 per cent of Dainik Bhaskar’s readers are women. With their decision-making and persuasive role within the family with regard to purchasing of goods and services, the number of women readers could be an essential indicator for factoring in the reach of a newspaper.

Data regarding the consumption and ownership patterns of readers of different newspapers could be of use for media sociologists as well as marketing campaign managers.

The consumption pattern of fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) among readers could be useful for advertising campaign plans of companies as well as studying the lifestyle of urban readership in a significant Hindi heartland state.

Over the years, vehicle ownership has also emerged as a significant element in socio-economic profiling of readers. The survey has data related to automobile ownership too.

In the early 1970s, N Kumar did an official study of the newspaper industry in Bihar  (Journalism in Bihar, Supplement to Bihar State Gazeteer, 1971). Two decades on, its growth and socio-political context became part of Professor Robin Jeffrey’s more extensive study of the Indian press. It was published by the turn of this century, India’s Newspaper Revolution (Hurst, 2000).

However, it was media analyst Sevanti Ninan’s Headlines from the Heartland (Sage, 2007) that, among other things, dwelt on the demographic factors that spurred Hindustan to achieve print leadership in the state in 2000.

Before coming to Patna for publishing Patna editions of Hindustan and The Hindustan Times in 1986, the Birla group had a foothold in the print business in Bihar through two Patna-based newspapers – Searchlight (in English) and Pradeep in Hindi. They were shut down to pave the way for The Hindustan Times and Hindustan. It was, however, Hindustan that made the HT group the market leader and it was achieved through a strategy worked out with the realisation of critical socio-economic indicators in Bihar’s demography and its potential as a major revenue earner.

Ninan identifies 2000 as the year of this realisation and subsequent circulation expanding drive in the state. According to her, the management woke up to two significant factors which made Bihar an attractive investment for a newspaper in spite of being seen as one of India’s most economically backward states

First, not constrained by evidently low literacy, the state had a politically-aware population keen on consuming news and being well-informed.

Second, and more significantly, in those years when electronic bank transfer wasn’t prevalent, the money order remittances from those working outside the state was adding to money flow in the state. It was supplementing the substantive agricultural wealth in the state which didn’t become apparent because of the poor law and order scene in the state. It was understood that people conceal their income.

One more reason, which Ninan misses, could be that seen in the context of social behaviour patterns, people in the state weren’t inclined to conspicuous consumption. This, however, has changed over the past two decades.

“The consumer goods market was only just discovering the potential for both consumer durables and non-durables in Bihar, and they needed a media vehicle for their advertising,” Ninan writes.

Aware of the inherent opportunity, the marketing team of The Hindustan Times in 2003 pitched it to the advertisers with a presentation. It cited the figures from IRS-2000-Round-1. Data showed that “the national average of households with a monthly income of more than Rs. 6000 was lower than in Bihar. The Bihari family then had higher purchasing power than the average Indian household. The state has considerable agricultural wealth, blessed as it is with enormous water resources. Public deposits in all scheduled commercial banks in this money order economy had been growing at 16 per cent or so over previous three years”.

So the attraction of disposable income in the hands of consumers was something the HT group pitched, along with its expanding circulation base in the state. The process of reaching out to local advertisers in the hinterland for regional editions faced the challenge of convincing traders and businessmen who were averse to show wealth for fear of abduction-for-ransom.

The easier way, as Ninan argues, was to approach Delhi-based advertisers who were planning promotion campaigns in Bihar. This is the segment that Hindustan targeted.

However, as argued in this column earlier this year, high-end advertising still eludes Hindi media — both print and broadcast. That may explain why Hindi dailies like Dainik Bhaskar are pitching the socio-economic profile of their readers to advertisers in English daily. Hindi dailies are hoping that the shift in the consumption patterns and economic profile of its readership makes an impact on advertisers. Indeed such consumerist churning in the Hindi heartland could be missed by advertisers only at their own peril.

Through the Hindi Lens is a fortnightly look into the world of Hindi news.

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