In the latest round of tussles between India’s two top English dailies, the Times of India and the Hindustan Times, the two have embarked on a publicity overdrive to prove that each is Numero Uno in the market for English newspapers in Delhi-National Capital Region (NCR).
Delhi is the only urban agglomeration on the planet from where as many as sixteen English daily publications are printed and distributed. But the market is highly skewed or oligopolistic because the top two dailies account for roughly three-fourths of the total market.
The Times of India, the world's most widely circulated English daily, is a "cry baby", claimed the Hindustan Times. An HT mailer that popped into the inbox of these writers on Labour Day, tried some verse: "They can crib, they can cry. They, unfortunately, can’t change the numbers".
The claim: HT had an overall readership of 23,00,000 and continued to be No. 1 in the Delhi-NCR; that the newspaper was on top of the league, according to at least fourteen readership surveys and that the circulation of the publication was 40 per cent ahead of its closest competitor, in this case, the ToI.
Prompt came the counter from the ToI: the advertisers in HT had been "shortchanged", it claimed, adding that the publication was inflating its circulation figures by counting 2,50,000-odd copies of HT 2 Min, a scaled-down, 12-page version of main paper that does not carry supplements such as HT City, HT Estates and the Sunday colour supplement of HT, Brunch.
The TOI mailer listed some 45 advertisements in the New Delhi edition of HT and the HT City supplement, dated 28 April, that were not carried in HT 2 Min. "This means, 23% of HT’s copies printed in NCR (2.5 lakh copies of HT 2 Min) might have missed your ad," the mailer claimed.
This was also the drift of the e-mailers sent out by the ToI on two previous days. Rahul Kansal, executive president, brand function, Times of India told the media website exchange4media.com that HT 2 Min was allegedly a "scam product" since it hardly carried any advertisements of the main paper but represented about 25 per cent of the total circulation of Hindustan Times.
A similar mailer was issued by the HT, alleging that its rival was inflating circulation figures. Both mailers were "issued in the advertiser’s interest".
According to the HT mailer, on 29 April, the ToI's NIE (Newspaper in Education) supplement -- accounting for some 20 per cent of the ToI’s circulation or 1,90,000-odd copies -- did not carry any of the advertisements published in the main edition of the TOI and its Delhi Times supplement. In effect, what the HT was alleging is that its rival was inflating figures by that many copies.
This latest round in the battle between the two rivals began when the Indian Readership Survey (IRS) 2014 was released in March. Nationally, the ToI is the only English daily to make it to the top ten. When one looks at all-India figures, among English dailies, the ToI has a readership close to 76,00,000 followed by the HT with a readership of about 45,00,000.
The English dailies do not lead nationwide rankings which are led by the Hindi heavyweights, Dainik Jagran (with readership of 1.67 crore), Hindustan (about 1.48 crore) and Dainik Bhaskar (about 1.39 crore) and followed by the biggies from the south, Malayala Manorama(close to 88 lakh) in Malayalam and Daily Thanthi (82 lakh) in Tamil.
While the HT is basing its claims on the figures provided in IRS 2014, the ToI has used the Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC) certificate for the July-December 2014 period while citing the circulation numbers of HT's Delhi edition.
The IRS, conducted by the Media Research Users' Council (MRUC) and the Readership Studies Council of India (RSCI) across the country, is characterised by a large sample size and provides extensive demographic details and consumption patterns. For example, the 2013 survey used a sample size of more than 2,00,000 people across 32 states and Union Territories, 95 cities and 92 districts.
The ABC data, on the other hand, contains only the circulation numbers of publications. As is common knowledge, circulation (number of copies printed) and readership (number of people reading) figures are different. Each copy of a publication may be read by more than one person, depending on the frequency and popularity of the publication, and that is what a readership survey like the IRS seeks to capture.
This difference was sought to be emphasised by the HT. Another mailer issued on 30 April by the newspaper, this time taking the war to the Mumbai editions of the Times group, claimed that Mumbai Mirror was a tabloid supplement of the TOI and was bundled along with main paper. Despite a dated claim of higher circulation copies, the TOI had a much lower readership than HT, or so the latter would have us believe.
"In truth, with 14.35 lakh readers, HT is firmly anchored as the undisputed No. 2 in Mumbai," the mailer said. HT said it had 3,37,000 more readers than Mumbai Mirror and that 9,11,000 HT readers do not read the TOI.
HT also said that it had a higher percentage of "sole" readers than Mumbai Mirror – HT had 51 per cent sole readers (7,35,000), while Mumbai Mirror had 18 per cent sole readers (1,94,000). It contended that over the last decade, HT had grown "exponentially in readership to become the fastest growing English daily in Mumbai".
In the context of the HT-TOI face-off, it is worth quoting a few pertinent facts about the Indian media that were highlighted by Prannoy Roy, executive co-chairperson of New Delhi Television at the RedInk Awards in Mumbai on 1 May, where he was given a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Mumbai Press Club. In his speech, Roy pointed out that in India media advertising rates are fixed by the eyeball count, not on quality and credibility.
For example, the advertising rates of the Times of London (with a circulation of some 4,00,000) is higher than that of the Sun, a tabloid with circulation of 2 million, five times higher than that of the Times. The same went for the CNN television channel which has higher advertisement rates than Fox News (with a three times higher viewership in comparison to CNN). But this was not the case with India, Dr Roy rued, with the advertising pie distributed based entirely on numbers with no differentiation between serious news and tabloid sensationalism.
It is in this context that one has to perceive why the latest IRS data has been debunked by several prominent publications such as Amar Ujala, Dainik Bhaskar, Dainik Jagran, Hindu, ToI, Dharitri, Mathrubhumi, Sakshi, Dinakaran and Punjab Kesari who got together to issue a "fact-sheet" titled: "What’s New? Certainly Not IRS 2014".
According to the joint statement issued by the ten newspapers, "three-fourths of the survey is the same as the discredited IRS 2013; only one-fourth of the sample is fresh". This "notice" also alleges that the "fresh sample" was taken in the period January-February 2014 but was being sought to be passed off as the "latest findings for the entire year".
The statement cites certain "flawed" examples of extrapolated circulation figures based on IRS 2013 figures: the Chennai-based Hindu Business Line had thrice as many readers in Manipur as in Chennai; the Hitavada, the main English newspaper published out of Nagpur with a certified circulation of over 60,000, did not have a single reader; Amar Ujala, with a certified circulation of 1,36,000, had a readership of just 81,000; and there was a drop of 19.5 per cent in the overall readership of English dailies in Delhi.
When the IRS 2013 results were announced in January 2014, these were rejected by the groups bringing out Dainik Bhaskar, Dainik Jagaran, Hindu, ToI and Amar Ujala among a total of 18 publishers. A statement issued by them alleged that IRS 2013 was "badly flawed", adding that the survey was "riddled with shocking anomalies, which defy logic and common sense". Arguing that the IRS 2013 numbers "grossly contradicted" audited circulation figures (that is, the figures put out by ABC), the statement called upon the MRUC and the RSCI, conductors of the IRS, to withdraw the results of IRS Q4 2013 "with immediate effect and put a stop to all future editions of the survey".
The joint statement faulted the "reputed" MRUC for its "numerous shortcomings" and bias in "trying to pass off the whole offering as brand new". This, it claimed, "isn’t the most transparent thing to do".
The 2013 IRS survey was conducted after a long hiatus and was the first after a merger with the National Readership Survey (NRS) of 2011. While the IRS was then under the MRUC, the NRS was under the National Readership Studies Council constituted by members belonging to the Indian Newspaper Society (INS), the Advertising Agencies Association of India (AAAI) and ABC. A new entity, the Readership Studies Council of India (RSCI), was set up and the survey continued to be called the IRS. A new vendor AC Nielsen replaced the Hansa Research Group Pvt. Ltd. AC Nielsen had carried out the last NRS in 1999. The merger of NRS and IRS was aimed at making the surveys more robust.
After the merger when AC Nielsen was appointedas vendor in 2012, the chairman of the IRS technical committee Paritosh Joshi was quoted in the Economic Times stating:
"Proposals were received from the most hallowed names in the media measurement universe and the quality of submissions was uniformly high. The knowledge and skill on display drew upon the very finest professional capability available globally. Developing an ... award recommendation was an unusually challenging task. The Nielsen proposal, that has won the approval of the Council, was exceptional in its methodological rigour, comprehensiveness and future readiness. The design recommendation and resources committed to the project should enable the Indian Readership Survey to reassert its position of pre-eminence in Indian media measurement.”
However, with a majority of newspapers dissatisfied with the IRS, these rather amusing mailers put out by the ToI and the HT keptgetting thrown around. As of now, a majority of newspapers have apparently decided not to "attach any credence" to the IRS numbers.
Meanwhile, Delhi's two duelling dailies in the English language continue to slug it out in the market knowing full well that the remaining fourteen newspapers are way below them in the pecking order. These are (not in order of circulation) Economic Times, Indian Express, Hindu, Asian Age, Mail Today, Pioneer, Statesman, Tribune, Deccan Herald, Business Standard, Financial Express, Mint and Hindu Business Line.
A question is often asked: Why are fourteen English daily newspapers vying with one another for such a small slice of a dwindling market in the national capital of Delhi? Answer: publications are brought out not necessarily to earn profit but to earn pride and prestige for its publishers and also to propagate political messages.
That's not all. There's yet another important why newspapers are published in Delhi (and, for that matter, elsewhere in India as well). To borrow a phrase allegedly coined by Palagummi Sainath: "The fourth estate is real estate".
Take a walk along the capital's Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg (named after the last Mughal emperor) or Mumbai's Nariman Point (named after Congress leader Khurshed 'Veer' Nariman who first proposed that the area be reclaimed from the Arabian Sea) and you will understand what we are saying.