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The rise of print

Published : Jul 06, 2002 00:00 IST

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National Readership Survey 2002 shows that the print media have acquired 17 million more readers since 1999.

DOOMSDAY prophets predicting the death of the print media in the electronic age can calm down. Printed periodicals do not appear to be in any danger of dying out. On the contrary, Gutenberg's medium seems to be growing. The findings of the National Readership Survey (NRS) 2002 show that India's print media readership base has expanded by 10 per cent over the last two years. Since the last NRS survey in 1999, the print media have acquired 17 million more readers (Frontline, October 8, 1999). The data may indicate that different media need not necessarily substitute one another. According to the NRS estimates, India's vast media industry reaches 180 million readers, 383.6 million television viewers, 189 million radio listeners and six million Internet users.

Despite the growth in readership, a majority of India's 428 million literate adults do not read any periodical publication. Besides India's vast illiterate adult population (252.5 million), there are 248 million literate adults who are unexposed to newspapers and magazines, in comparison to the 180 million who do read publications. Readers from nearly six lakh villages make up only 48 per cent of the readership base, although rural India is home to 62.6 per cent of the country's literate population. This could be due to the urban-centric nature of most publications, which may not cater to the interests of rural residents. The NRS points to a vast, untapped readership base in rural India, which could offer new opportunities for the Indian press.

Newspaper readership has grown by about 20 per cent from 131 million in 1999 to 155 million in 2002. Readership growth has been faster than literacy growth, which expanded by 13 per cent during the same period. Newspapers contributing to this rise in readership were mainly in English, Hindi, Marathi and Kannada. The Hindi dailies, Dainik Bhaskar and Dainik Jagran, have the highest readership, with 13 million and 12.6 million readers respectively. No English newspaper figured amongst the 10 most widely read newspapers in the country. The prominence given to the English press is disproportionate to its actual readership. Even in urban India, only one English daily, The Times of India, is amongst the top 10. The fastest growing dailies are the Assamese dailies in urban areas (51.8 per cent increase) and the Bengali dailies in rural areas (129 per cent rise). Other high growth dailies are published in Oriya, Hindi, Punjabi, Kannada and Marathi. The highest readership was found to be in Kerala.

While newspaper readership has picked up, magazines have lost some ground. Their reach fell by 22 per cent in two years (taking into account the population growth in these years) from 93.8 million in 1999 to 86.2 million in 2002. General interest, film/entertainment and sports magazines in particular have suffered declines. Bengali, Tamil and Telugu magazines are the only ones that increased their readership. Magazine readership in all other languages decreased. The Hindi magazine Saras Salil enjoys the highest readership, followed by Grihashobha, also in Hindi, and India Today.

The data reveal a clear correlation between literacy and media exposure. The reach of the press is higher in the southern, western and northeastern States, which have higher literacy rates. The northern States, apart from Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Haryana, have lower exposure to the press. Television reach patterns are almost identical to press exposure, except in the northeastern States where television reach is low but press reach is high. Although Hindi is the most widely used language, the reach of the press in the Hindi belt remains low due to lower literacy rates. Readership mirrors literacy and educational achievements. Kerala, the State with the highest literacy rate, has a 70 per cent readership. But in Bihar, which has one of the lowest literacy levels, only 15 per cent of the population reads periodicals.

People in urban India spend less time on media - print, television, radio and the Internet. The average cityslicker is now exposed to the media for 13 hours a week, as compared to 14 hours in 1999. This decline has not affected reading time. The average urban person still reads for 18 minutes a day, which accounts for 16 per cent of his/her total media time. In rural India, an average adult is exposed to the media for just six hours a week. The media time of rural adults has remained constant since NRS 1999. Most media time is taken up by television, which commands 72 per cent of the urban Indian's time spent on media. In absolute terms, the average viewing time has fallen from 85 minutes a day in 1999 to 82 minutes in 2002. Television Audience Measurement (TAM) meter readings also show that television viewing time has fallen from an average of 140 minutes a day last year to 130 minutes a day this year.

Yet, the reach of television has grown by 12 per cent since 1999. Cable and satellite penetration has risen from 29 million in 1999 to 40 million, a 31 per cent growth, which is more than double the figure of television's rate of growth. Around half of all homes in India with televisions now have cable and satellite subscriptions. This highlights the vast potential for expansion of this already pervasive medium. Television reach has been higher in the southern States of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. It has also been high in Gujarat, one of the most prosperous States.

Although it is yet to achieve as wide a reach as other media forms in India, the Internet has grown in terms of access by over 30 per cent in the last year. Currently, 6.02 million people access the Internet, as compared to only 1.4 million in 1999. Most Internet users are from urban India. Only 8 per cent of those who used the Internet over the last three months live in India's villages. The digital divide is yet to be bridged. The places from where people access the Internet have changed. The number of people surfing the Internet in the office has fallen, while there has been a sudden spurt in the growth of Internet cafes, making the WorldWide Web accessible to a larger audience. Another progressive indicator is the fact that the percentage of people accessing the Internet from schools and colleges has also seen a sharp increase.

Women's media habits have undergone a change. The number of women who read newspapers has increased by 37 per cent, but they spend less time reading magazines. Women also spend less time watching television and listening to the radio than they did in 1999.

The NRS in India is one of the largest in the world, with a reporting sample size of over 2,13,000 individuals to track media exposure and changing consumer trends in both urban and rural India. The study covers 514 publications (25 dailies and 289 magazines). A useful guide for media analysts and marketing strategists, the NRS is conducted annually by three research agencies - the Indian Market Research Bureau (IMRB), TNS Mode and AC Nielsen. It is one of two readership surveys conducted in India. The other is the Indian Readership Survey. The sample is urban-centric, with only 30 per cent of it based on people living in villages. Jammu and Kashmir, Goa and offshore territories (Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Lakshadweep) are excluded.

Over the years, the survey has provided a comprehensive picture of the country's media landscape. It also highlights the vast uncharted territories and the potential of the media, which remains untapped owing to socio-economic factors such as poverty, inequality and poor access to education.

(This story was published in the print edition of Frontline magazine dated Jul 06, 2002.)

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