The World: Insider's View - India

Mumbai, despite its size, was one of India's quietest newspaper markets. But now three new titles are battling to seduce advertisers and readers. Ravi Kiran reports.

Print adspend growth in India has slackened to single-digit percentages, so publishers are becoming increasingly aggressive in their attempts to pick up the slack.

Oddly, given Mumbai's size and position as the largest single-city print ad market (worth $250 million a year), it has been one of India's quietest newspaper markets.

Until this year, it was dominated by The Times of India, which sells 480,000 copies daily and has a 70 per cent readership share. But even the most conservative reading of these figures points to a circulation gap of more than one million potential readers. It's a hole that two publishers have moved quickly to fill.

The Hindustan Times, one of the oldest publishing groups in India, launched in the city in July. It was joined last month by Daily News & Analysis, published by the Bhaskar Group in a joint venture with the broadcaster Zee Telefilms.

These launches have been interesting to watch. DNA started a high-decibel, out-of-home advertising campaign in April, recruiting a team of sales promoters that claims to have signed up more than 300,000 subscribers to a paper that aims to be "the voice of Mumbai".

True to its more understated personality, The Hindustan Times ran a pan-Indian TV ad and a local print campaign with the line: "Let there be light." It claimed to have signed 220,000 subscribers for a whole year by the time it launched on 14 July.

Not to be outdone, Bennett Coleman, the publisher of The Times of India, attempted to steal a march on both by launching the Mumbai Mirror, the city's first tabloid. Many in the industry saw it as a rather hastily put-together pre-emptive tactic that would not succeed.

Such pessimism appears to have been well founded. After just a month selling the Mumbai Mirror as a standalone product, Bennett has started giving it away with The Times of India and running a massive promotional drive, handing readers cash prizes if they are seen carrying a copy of the Mirror.

So Mumbai now has three new newspapers printing nearly a million copies a day, all aspiring to be the second most-read English-language title in the city. Add Mid-Day, the afternoon paper, and the Indian Express to the mix and the newsstands are getting crowded.

Advertisers have generally welcomed the increase in choice. Media agencies are more circumspect and are not yet advising their clients to move out of The Times of India. But some are encouraging clients to take advantage of the new readers. It will be several months before audited circulation figures and readership numbers will be available, so agencies and advertisers must devise their own methods of assessing the effectiveness of the titles.

None is here for the short haul, so there are interesting times ahead.

- Ravi Kiran is the chief executive of Starcom Worldwide, South Asia.

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