Supriyo Sinha, Vice President - Bengali dailies, Anandabazar Patrika and Ebela, tells IMPACT how customizing the product and marketing initiatives in Rest of Bengal (outside Kolkata) have helped grow circulation and advertising revenues
Q] What have been the strategies adopted by Anandabazar Patrika to increase its readership in the Rest of Bengal (ROB) market, outside Kolkata?
We have adopted a holistic strategy to grow Anandabazar Patrika’s readership in the districts of West Bengal. This includes strengthening the product to cater to the tastes of the district readers, expanding the distribution network, customized marketing and promotion, and enhancing the capacity of our printing facilities in the districts. We have opened up several new channels of sales and delivery, e.g., xerox shops, local kirana shops, which add to the last mile delivery strength. In several areas in Tier II and rural locations, we have opened up new routes with additional distribution vehicles to reach areas where the newspaper was not being delivered earlier.
Our brand communication highlights our leadership position in the ROB market. In addition, we have done over 60 smaller product campaigns highlighting specific content in the newspaper, besides promotions through local clubs, auto miking, etc., to reach out to the masses. We have enhanced the capacity at all our district plants from 20 page all-colour to 24 page all-colour. This allows us to provide more reading material while giving us more inventory for advertisements. In the last two years, Anandabazar Patrika’s readership in the districts has grown by 3,20,000 readers per day.
Q] Have you implemented any changes in the product that helped differentiate it from the competition?
We have made several additions to the product, Anandabazar Patrika. We have a separate four page pullout for each of 12 District Splits. We have also introduced several new sections customized for districts, such as Amar Shohor (My city/town): Covering civic issues, heritage and culture, etc., specific to the particular town or city; Amar School (My school): Featuring a well-known school in the town in each issue; Chasher Disha: Focusing on agriculture and innovations to boost farming productivity, targeted at farmers; Amar Porashona: Covering options for education; and Khelar Mathey: Dedicated to local sports.
Q] What are the challenges and opportunities you see to drive the product in the rural market?
To drive the product in the rural market we see three principal challenges: Distribution access: Distances to droppoints are large and the volume in each location is small. Adding extra distribution vehicles to meet the morning delivery times often becomes commercially unviable. We are exploring various innovative routes, but logistics will remain a challenge to be overcome in the days ahead. Purchasing power: Anandabazar Patrika is priced at Rs 5 per day on weekdays and Rs 6 on weekends. Hence the rural masses are reluctant to buy a newspaper, although the value of news and awareness is largely there.
Television as a news delivery medium: TV delivers news on the same day, while a newspaper delivers it the next day. Moreover, as a TV channel comes as part of a bouquet, the cost per channel to a viewer is almost negligible. These two factors make TV a strong competitor to a newspaper, though the latter is much better positioned to provide local news and more in-depth analysis. Anandabazar Patrika is very strong in these aspects.
Q] With many newspapers adopting the ‘print-digital’ model, do you believe this will also work in ROB markets, particularly in Tier II and Tier III towns?
With the growing penetration of mobile networks and smartphones, the Tier II and Tier III markets will also have a fairly large audience for Digital. The mobile phone will play a big role, since penetration of computers will continue to be low in these locations. However, reading newspapers is a habit. Plus, a vernacular daily will always have an edge over English news (on mobiles), given the higher penetration of Bengali education in the districts compared to English education. While there will surely be increased propensity for consumer news over the mobile phone, vernacular newspapers will continue to hold a strong position.
Q] What has been the growth in revenues – with regard to circulation and advertising in the ROB markets? How do local advertisers compare vis-a-vis national advertisers?
Both national and local advertisers have welcomed our focus on and growth in the districts. National advertisers are increasingly looking to Tier II and Tier III locations as they find the metro locations increasingly saturated and crowded. Local advertisers can leverage our District Splits to advertise only in those editions where they have a presence. This increases the effectiveness of their ad spends and minimizes waste. We have seen healthy growth in both circulation and advertising revenues as a result of all these initiatives.
Q] Looking ahead, how much upside and growth rate do you see in the ROB market when compared to Kolkata?
Only about 16-20% of people who can read Bengali actually read a Bengali newspaper in the districts. So, the upside is large as there is a large open space of opportunity that can be tapped to grow the penetration of a vernacular newspaper.