The British media's rush to make a mark in Indian ink

For years, Indian newspapers and magazines were infatuated with their English counterparts. Now it is the Western press scrambling to get a foothold in the Indian market, says 'The Times of India''s Manu Joseph

In the largest fragment of the Commonwealth, the spelling of "colonise" has changed to "colonize". On 12 November, The Times of India took the first step towards breaking from a long tradition, with an official email instructing senior editors that all verbs ending with the British "ise" must now be changed to the American "ize". "That's the way forward," says Jaideep Bose, the executive editor of the paper, which has an average daily circulation of over 3.1 million. "'Colour' has to be 'color'. 'Honour' has to be 'honor'. The world is moving towards American spelling. We are largely reading American books, American magazines. Indian children are taking American entrance exams. There is no good reason any more why we should stick to the British spelling."

This betrayal of the Queen's English endangers one of the only two enduring British traditions in India: spelling and keeping to the left of the road. Ironically, the change in spelling convention comes just as British media organisations are besieging the Indian market, seeking growth that is hard to find at home.

This month, the Daily Mail launched a tabloid in Delhi in association with a local right-wing partner, the India Today group. In October, Cond Nast International, which is based in London, launched the Indian edition of Vogue. Destined to arrive in two years are GQ, Glamour and Vanity Fair. The Economist recently announced plans to increase its circulation in the country; The Daily Telegraph is finding newer ways to syndicate its content in India; and the Irish-based Independent News & Media (INM), which owns The Independent, has bought a stake in Dainik Jagran, a huge Hindi daily.

Indian law allows foreign investors to own 100 per cent of niche publications, but no more than 26 per cent of newspapers and other mainstream titles though what is niche and what is mainstream are not clearly explained in the law. Despite the ambiguity, the British media are jostling for a slice of the Indian press, which will be worth about 2.5bn within three years, according to the estimates of PricewaterhouseCoopers.

In a way, the British media will be right at home in India. The Americanisation of spelling in the Times notwithstanding, the fundamental character of Indian newspapers has been shaped by generations of editors who have been somewhat infatuated with the British press.

Vir Sanghvi is the editorial director of the Hindustan Times and one of the most influential columnists in the country. "We have got the structure of our stories, the way they are written, and our opinionated style of news coverage from the British press," Sanghvi says. "The national character of our English newspapers, too, is a result of this influence."

But there is also a very Indian way of doing things in the press that is distinctly non-British. In every aspect of life in India from crossing the road to rocket science to journalism the individual triumphs over the system. This often perplexes foreigners. It is not uncommon, even at high-end newspapers, for imaginary interviews to be creatively generated by reporters who do not lose their jobs when found out. Content from Wikipedia is cut and pasted into articles. Design rules are routinely flouted. Lifestyle magazines that do not receive enough letters to the editor assign reporters to write them. And several journalists fondly remember occasions when the contracted astrologer was on leave and they had to write the horoscope themselves.

British media companies trying to get a foothold will also have to grapple with the sheer dominance of The Times of India group. The company spends about 25p to produce a copy of the newspaper and recovers less than 5p from the reader. Yet, the Times is one of the most profitable newspapers in the world. Ravi Dhariwal, the company's CEO (Publishing), says turnover last year was around 500m, and it made over 120m in profit.

The newspaper constantly experiments, and on occasions goes against journalistic convention. For example, corporations and aspiring socialites are allowed to buy editorial space in a supplement. And in the paper's Sunday columns page, the first-person "I" is written as a lowercase "i", supposedly to minimise ego and stress the unimportance of the individual in the larger scheme of things.

Independent News & Media surprised industry observers when it decided not to invest in the English-language press but rather in a Hindi-language paper. About two years ago, it picked up 26 per cent of Jagran Prakashan Limited (JPL), which owns India's most-read daily, Dainik Jagran, for less than 18m. Now INM holds 21 per cent, after selling the other 5 per cent on the bullish Bombay Stock Exchange for twice the price it originally paid.

Gavin O'Reilly, the chief operating officer of INM, says that when he first looked at the Indian market he realised that the English newspaper segment "was crowded with high quality papers" and they were not growing as fast the vernacular press. "Historically, the English press in India has got a disproportionate share of advertising," he says. "Now, vernacular papers are catching up." He does not see himself investing in the English-language Indian media any time soon "but you never say never". O'Reilly is planning to print a facsimile version of The Independent's international edition in Delhi, and is waiting for the Indian government to grant INM the rights to own 100 per cent of the venture.

Away from the newspaper market, a very different battle rages among lifestyle magazines. Cond Nast launched the Indian edition of Vogue last month with a cover price of 100 rupees (1.25), and was the first overseas publisher to be granted a 100 per cent stake in an Indian publication. "We have no clear idea how important India will become to us in, say, 10 years," says Nicholas Coleridge, the vice president of Cond Nast International, the division that launched the Indian Vogue. "At the moment it is quite a small market, despite the enormous population. But it is changing fast."

The head of Cond Nast India, Alex Kuruvilla, says that the coming of Cond Nast has instilled the fear of God in the country's lifestyle magazine segment. N Radhakrishnan, the editor and publisher of Man's World, admits that GQ will be a threat, though he insists that "our own loyal readership should help us face any competition".

There is a feeling among observers, however, that the Indian print industry's prospects might have been overestimated. Though Vir Sanghvi acknowledges that the growing circulation of Indian papers is an indicator of a growing middle class, he says that part of it could also be the result of desperate newspaper marketing, free subscriptions and "buy one get one free" selling philosophies. There have been gleeful newsroom conversations about how the foreigners are going to lose money in India. But on the brighter side, there is also a view that, like Mark Twain's death and the size of condoms in France, the imminent demise of newspapers might be exaggerated.

Manu Joseph is the national features editor of The Times of India

Alan Bennett has criticised the “repellent” reality shows which dominate our screens
tvBut he does like Stewart Lee
Life and Style
The Google Doodle celebrating the start of the first day of autumn, 2014.
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
Former Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin, left, with her daughter, Bristol
newsShe's 'proud' of eldest daughter, who 'punched host in the face'
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
Arts and Entertainment
Salmond told a Scottish television chat show in 2001that he would also sit in front of a mirror and say things like,
tvCelebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Life and Style
Carol O'Brien, whose son Rob suffered many years of depression
healthOne mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
Life and Style
food + drink
Rob Merrick's Lobby Journalists were playing Ed Balls' Labour Party MPs. The match is an annual event which takes place ahead of the opening of the party conference
newsRob Merrick insistes 'Ed will be hurting much more than me'
A cabin crew member photographed the devastation after one flight
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Senior Account Executive / Account Executive

£25 - 30k (DOE) + Bonus & Benefits: Guru Careers: We are looking for an Accoun...

Account Manager / Sales Account Manager / Recruitment Account Manager

£25k Basic (DOE) – (£30k year 1 OTE) : Guru Careers: We are seeking a bright A...

Resourcer / Junior Recruiter

£15-20k (DOE) + Benefits / Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking a bright R...

Web Designer / Digital Designer

£25 - 40k (DOE) + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Web Desig...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits