My better half has just returned after a visit to the United Kingdom. When she arrived at the airport, her face as radiant as ever despite all the travel, and I asked her whether she had missed Chennai (she had been away for almost two months), she coolly drawled that she hadn’t. She hadn’t missed Chennai at all; it was only her friends and relatives here she had missed. Given half a chance, she looked set to make another trip again. Later, she whispered to me as if revealing a secret that she wouldn’t mind settling down in the U.K. if only she could take along with her all the people she loved ever so dearly.
Oh to be in England, now that April is there… does that ring a bell? Well, that may be one of those unforgettable lines in English poetry but who wouldn’t ever agree! There’s quite nothing like the English countryside and no city quite like London. No garbage, no stench, lovely roads, greenery all around, ducks and swans in lakes and ponds, hardly the pressure of population, people out on their walks, dogs in tow… you could go on and on about England. After visits to London, Milton Keynes, Cambridge, Nottingham, Peterborough and Cardiff, my wife had become much more confident than she ever was, and quite an expert photographer, having taken some wonderful picture-postcard shots of the English countryside.
She’s still to complete describing her varied experiences, but one of the things she mentioned, something I was particularly interested in, was about the newspaper reading habits of people she had met and stayed with. Well, most people in England seem to make do by reading newspapers online. Indeed, in some families, it is a ritual with the early morning coffee or tea. Her niece, with two young children to mother, cannot start her day without logging on to her favourite newspaper Web sites, some of them local. With the e-paper readily available without paying a pie, it is almost as good as being in Chennai or Mumbai or Thiruvananthapuram. So, it isn’t really empty talk about newspapers having an awfully hard time in the developed world. For all that, there are still local newspapers such as the Nottingham Post or the London Evening Standard doing fairly well. She was kind enough to get me copies of each, and what I first noticed was the number of pages – 72. Despite the newsprint prices skyrocketing worldwide, mind you.
Compare that with India. A broad sweep of the past two decades shows how the face of the media has rapidly changed in India and yet how old habits like reading the newspaper have gained ground. When CNN brought the Gulf War to millions of viewers in India in the early 1990s, many had prophesied the beginning of the end of newspapers. Today, almost 20 years later, the newspaper industry is flourishing in India; it is the second largest in the world, after China. Currently, India's print media is estimated to reach more than 220 million people. However, in a country of more than one billion people, about 360 million literate Indians do not subscribe to a newspaper. So, where really is the comparison between India and developed countries like the U.K.?
A FICCI- PricewaterhouseCoopers estimate says that India’s print industry would grow from 162 billion rupees or $3.38 billion (2008) to 213 billion rupees or $4.44 billion in 2013. The relative share of newspaper and magazine publishing (87%) is not likely to change, says the report. The advertising segment, the report points out, will grow at 16%, compared to growth in circulation revenues of 8%. Circulation revenues are set to touch Rs 62 billion (USD 1.3 billion) in 2012, from Rs 58 billion (USD 1.2 billion) in 2008. The magazine publishing market is expected to reach Rs 29 billion (USD 604 million) in 2013 (Rs.21 billion, USD 438 million in 2008). Internet advertising is projected to grow by 32%, touching Rs 20 billion (USD 417 million) in 2013, from Rs 5 billion (USD 104 million) in 2008, increasing its share of the advertising pie to 5.5%.
Statistics are, of course, boring. But they do point to reality. Except for the elite classes, people who own a computer at home, or have access to one in office, reading newspapers online is just not possible for Indians. The reason the newspaper industry here is flourishing.
In recent weeks I have made reading newspapers online a habit. I'm particularly happy to read The Telegraph, Kolkata. Will tell you why later... But, yes, reading online does not match the charm of holding a newspaper nestled in an armchair, sometimes smelling its pages, and marking out articles you wish to reserve for your scrapbook.