Increasingly literate India fuels newspaper boom

When India hosted the World Newspaper Congress last year, Indian editors and owners were a conspicuously cheerful minority at a gathering dominated by doubts over the future of newsprint.

While many papers in industrialised nations have been laying off staff or folding in the face of freefalling circulation figures and competition from Internet news and television, the printed press in India is booming.

A fast-expanding economy, mushrooming advertising budgets, rising disposable income and, above all, increasing literacy rates have fuelled a newspaper renaissance, with new titles and fatter editions appearing by the month.

Since 2005 the number of paid-for daily newspaper titles in India has grown by 44 percent to 2,700, according to the "World Press Trends 2010" survey published by the World Association of Newspapers (WAN-IFRA).

That makes it the world leader ahead of the United States with 1,397 titles and China with 1,000.

India also has the world's highest paid-for daily circulation, having surpassed China for the first time in 2008.

"What we have is education levels and purchasing power improving - there's a hunger among Indians to know," Bhaskar Rao, director of New Delhi's Centre for Media Studies, told AFP.

Even with 125 million households owning a television, "TV only seems to serve as an appetizer - after watching the evening news they want to read more about the stories the next day," Rao said.

Indian newspapers are also incredibly cheap, with revenue driven by advertising rather than sales.

Most have a cover price of less than four rupees (eight US cents), allowing many households to subscribe to more than one daily.

The market liberalisation of the early 1990s triggered the rapid expansion of an Indian middle class that was hungry for information and represented a boom in potential consumers as well as newspaper readers.

"A race began to reach this audience," said Robin Jeffrey, author of "India's Newspaper Revolution."

"Advertising avenues were the prizes and these would come largely to newspapers that could convince advertisers that they had more readers than their rivals," Jeffrey said.

India boasts the world's largest English-language newspaper in the Times of India, with a circulation of around four million and a well-educated, affluent readership that allows it to charge ad rates more than 10 times those of Hindi and other language publications.

In recent years, newspaper growth has been fuelled by increasing literacy which has opened up more markets apart from the wealthy but numerically limited urban middle-class.

According to government estimates, only 35 percent of Indians could read in 1976. The current literacy level is almost twice that and youth literacy stands at around 82 percent, meaning a massive pool of future readers.

"There's a huge hinterland that's becoming literate and starting to read newspapers," said Santosh Bhartia, editor of the Hindi-language weekly Chauthi Dunia which tackles such issues as slum clearances and corruption.

"They want to read about themselves, their lives, how to improve themselves and they're getting it from language newspapers which talk about local subjects and issues," Bhartia told AFP.

The clearest sign of this broadening appeal is the ascendance of the non-English press. Circulation of Hindi newspapers, for example, has risen from less than eight million in the early 1990s to more than 25 million in 2009.

And circulation figures only tell half the story, as many more people read newspapers than actually buy them.

In readership terms English-language newspapers are absent from the top 10 where Hindi titles, led by the 55 million readership Dainik Jagran, take the top four spots, according the WAN-IFRA survey.

They are followed by Tamil, Marathi, Bengali and Telugu titles, and it's not until 11th place is reached that the Times of India pops up with 13.3 million readers.

While such numbers are enough to make a western newspaper owner weep with envy, the statistic that really stands out is that, in a country of 1.2 billion people, only around 200 million people read a newspaper every day.

"That means fundamentally there are still 800 million to 900 million people waiting to start engaging with newspapers," said Tarun Tejpal, editor of the investigative weekly Tehelka, who aims to launch a new financial paper before the end of the year.

"That's why there is so much bullishness about newspapers and people believe there'll be traction for newspapers for years to come," Tejpal told AFP.

For the moment, Indian newspapers are not struggling with the same competition from the Internet that has been partly blamed for falling circulation in developed countries.

The cost of connections and a lack of infrastructure means Internet penetration remains low, with only 55 million Indian web users. And while there are more than 635 million mobile phone users, just 20 percent have Internet capability.

"Increasing literacy is creating more demand, but many don't have access to the Internet so they're turning to newspapers," said PriceWaterhouse media consultant Timmy Kandhari.

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Arts and Entertainment
James singer Tim Booth
latitude 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Lee says: 'I never, ever set out to offend, but it can be an accidental by-product'
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe judges were wowed by the actress' individual cooking style
Arts and Entertainment
Nicholas says that he still feels lucky to be able to do what he loves, but that there is much about being in a band he hates
musicThere is much about being in a band that he hates, but his debut album is suffused with regret
Arts and Entertainment
The singer, who herself is openly bisexual, praised the 19-year-old sportsman before launching into a tirade about the upcoming Winter Olympics

books
Arts and Entertainment
music
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
    Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

    Take a good look while you can

    How climate change could wipe out this seal
    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

    Farewell, my lovely

    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
    Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

    Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

    Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

    John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
    Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

    Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

    The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
    The 10 best pedicure products

    Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

    Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

    Commonwealth Games 2014

    Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
    Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

    Jack Pitt-Brooke

    Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
    How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game