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Battle of Bengal


ABP's age old monopoly over the newspaper market in West Bengal might come into serious question as BCCL turns on the heat with their Bengali daily
SNEHANGSHU ADHIKARI | New Delhi, November 24, 2012 15:27
Tags : BCCL | Bennett | Coleman and Company Ltd | Anandabazar Patrika Group |

The banners have been unfurled and the battle drums are beating in West Bengal. The  reigning monarch of newspapers in the state, the Anandabazar Patrika Group (ABP) have held a majority stake in the newspaper market for a long time, with a circulation of 12-13 lakhs and a readership of around 60 lakhs. For the first time, they are being given a serious run for their money by Bennett, Coleman and Company Ltd (BCCL).

BCCL has been trying to make a dent in that for quite some time now, with their Times of India. In fact, Kolkata is one of the few metros in India, along with Hyderabad and Chennai, where TOI is not the largest selling daily. In an attempt to break ABP’s grip over the state, they also had launched other Bengali magazines like Samay (a literary magazine competing against ABP’s Desh) and Udita (competitor to ABP’s women’s magazine Sanada). But the former remained unfazed. However, now the battle has really heated up, with TOI upping the ante and hitting ABP where it really hurts – the Bengali daily market.

BCCL pulled out all the stops with the launch of their own Bengali daily broadsheet, Ei Samay. They had roped in Mumbai-based agency Tailor to manage the entire launch campaign. Scheduled on the auspicious day of Mahalaya (October 15), the beginning of Durga puja, the launch was steeped in all the glitz and glamour commensurate with BCCL’s national clout. It not only included a gala festival with the who’s who of Bengali filmdom, but also had a huge participation from the common man.

According to sources of MW among newspaper traders, of the 1,85,000 printed copies, around 1,50,000 of Ei Samay were sold on the very first day.

Interestingly, BCCL does not seem interested in flying customers and is going for the jugular – the subscriber readership. Thus, while the on the stands cost of Ei Samay is four rupees on all days except Sunday when it costs five rupees, a cost equal to that of Anadabazar, their subscription cost, at Rs 175 for six months, is substantially lower that the latter’s Rs 525. Interestingly, this means effectively, by subscribing to Ei Samay, a reader is getting the broadsheet at less than a rupee a day.

The success of Ei Samay might be a cause of worry for ABP. Though it have an impressive battery of publications in its arsenal and publish the fourth largest selling English daily in the country, The Telegraph (TT), its Bengali daily Anandabazar remains its mainstay. In fact, a large part of the success of TT is owing a combo-pack with Anandabazar. Also, TT is only marginally ahead of TOI in the state with the numbers of copies at 4.53 lakhs and 3.27 lakhs respectively. In fact, in the city of Kolkata, TT leads by a sliver of about 60 thousand only, according to an insider.

On their part, ABP seemed to have anticipated the onslaught and began preparing for it quite a while back. A month prior to Ei Samay’s launch, ABP had launched E-Bela, a tabloid. While nowhere near to the grandeur of the former’s launch, it was an emphatic affair. With an introductory offer, it was distributed free of cost for the first seven days, reminiscent of how Times of India was circulated when it was launched in Bengal. Now E-Bela is being sold at the cover price of two rupees and with ABP at the combo rate of a rupee.

However,  not everybody is convinced that E-Bela poses a major threat yet. According to the Paschimbanga Sambad Patra Bikreta Samiti, the largest union of newspaper vendors, a huge factor behind the initial success had been TOI’s assured 1 lakh subscriptions. Neither has its performance been stellar in the districts.

“Though in Kolkata-Howrah and suburban  areas Ei Samay is doing absolutely well, in rural area and outskirts, people still seems to happy enough with ABP (main newspapers, not the tabloid),” commented Ajit Das, a newspaper vendor in Kolkata’s Gariahat region. Clarifying his stand, he emphasises on the monthly budget of a general Bengali household: “Tell me, why would a family spend another four rupees for a newspaper when they have already subscribed ABP. Neither is the subscription offer of Ei Samay available in rural parts. So it is struggling. ”

Others have stressed on the fact that it will be very difficult for BCCL to break the “Bengal’s habit of 90 years” with ABP. Examples of Pune, where BCCL launched Maharashtra Times but largely failed to capture much of Sakaal’s market share, market share has been taken by many. Also, they are rather new to the Bengali news market. Opinionated as they are, Bengalis are not likely to take kindly to the new paper if the editorial is not rock solid. However, the fact that the paper is being headed by Suman Chatterjee, a former executive-editor of Anandabazar makes the situation that much more of a potboiler.

Another big question, and perhaps a more important one, is how this will affect the market. The Bengali print media has almost saturated level with around a dozen dailies mushrooming in the last couple of years. However, many pundits believe that the efforts from both the media-giants will certainly play a major role in growing the market further. Also, when other dailies like Bartaman and Aajkaal were launched, both by former ABP honchos, the giant had treated it with a nonchalant shrug. The battle formations that they have called into action over E-Bela unquestionably prove that fight will be different.

So will BCCL finally break ABP’s suzerainty over West Bengal? Will Ei Samay trump Anandabazar? It is far too early to call the fight. The only sureity is, this is going to be quite the potboiler.  

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017