Newspapers Thriving in India; Struggling in U.S.

We love newspapers. We always have.

For us, the joy of reading a newspaper in bed cuddling a loved one is a pleasure bar none. 

In our childhoold (the pre-TV days of the 60s and 70s), the sports pages of The Hindu were a big draw. As we grew older, we shifted our loyalties to the Indian Express and the Economic Times.

After moving to the U.S., we’ve been addicted to the New York Times and Wall Street Journal.

And it’s with distress we’ve watched the fortunes of the newspaper business sink in the U.S. lately.

But newspaper circulation is rising in India and China even as it falls in countries like USA where TV and digital media continue their relentless onslaught on the print medium.

According to the World Association of Newspapers (WAN), seven of the 10 world’s best-selling dailies are published in Asia. India, China and Japan account for 60 of them.

WAN estimates that circulation of U.S. dailies fell 1.9% in 2006 and 5.18% over five years. We think the WAN numbers underestimate the gravity of the problem in the U.S. and may not take note of the complimentary copies.

Revenue decline inevitably follows circulation declines. And sure enough, newspaper ad revenues in 2006 in the U.S. fell by 1.68% in 2006, according to WAN.

For the first quarter of 2007, total circulation revenues for the New York Times Company rose a piffling 1%, mainly because of the home-delivery and newsstand price increases in the fall one of our favorite newspapers New York Times .

The New York Times Company acknowledged in April that print advertising remains challenging, especially for classified advertising and in categories such as telecommunications and national automotive where it’s seeing declines.

The picture is not much different at our other favorite paper, Wall Street Journal. For Q1 of 2007, revenues at the Wall Street Journal U.S. Edition were down.

It’s the grim outlook for Dow Jones that has made Rupert Murdoch want to lay his grubby hands on its flagship asset, the Wall Street Journal.

Au contraire, in India newspapers continue to thrive and new ones continue to emerge. For instance, the Hindustan Times launched their business daily Mint a few months ago.

Compared to the U.S., newspapers are still ridiculously cheap in India. New York Times and Wall Street Journal both cost a buck on weekdays if you buy it at the newsstand. The Sunday edition of the Times costs $5.00 at the newsstand. The Bombay edition of The Economic Times cost Rs 2.00 on weekdays. Most likely, other papers in India are cheaper.

India’s day of reckoning with the print media will come when PC/Internet penetration and quality of broadband access improves.

Interestingly, we’ve rarely observed Indians purchasing or reading newspapers in the U.S.

Sure, a lot of Desis in the U.S. religiously read India Abroad, India West or any of the other Indian community newspapers. But we’re talking about mainstream American newspapers like the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, L.A.Times, Washington Post, and Chicago Tribune.

My unscientific observation suggests that Indians – North Indian or South Indian – in the U.S. rarely show interest in the mainstream newspapers.

Despite living in the U.S. for long years, a lot of Indians show little interest in mainstream America. On the contrary, many Indians are still obsessively interested in happenings in Bombay, Bangalore, Chennai and Lucknow. We know Indians who get magazines from India but will not pick up an American newspaper.

By the way, if you want to pick up Indian newspapers on the East Coast, Butala Emporium on 74th St in Jackson Heights (Queens), New York is the place to visit.

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