Jaipur Literary Festival, the mahakumbh of fiction lovers, is still a week away, but a gripping story of the “meteoric” rise in newspaper circulation across this glorious land of milk, honey and Patanjali noodles is already busting the charts.
Called the Indian Readership Survey, it is the saga of 11 crore (or 110 million) mitron who valiantly pushed back their distractions, kept aside their mobile phones, switched off their TV sets, put off their mall visits, ignored demonetisation, GST and other trials and tribulations, and joined the happy parivar of newspaper readers.
Three years in the making, after the previous edition was rejected by 18 protagonists because they were painted in not-so-glorious hues by the authors despite their fullest cooperation, IRS 2017 corroborates the axiom that newspaper circulation in Asia is like the Sun: it rises in the East and sets in the West.
If you believe in fairytale stories, and there is no reason why you should not if you agree with Narendra Modi that Lord Ganesha is an example of ancient Indian expertise in plastic surgery, IRS 2K7 is the tome to browse.
For, with chapters helpfully titled Ujwala Yojana and Toilet ek Prem Katha, it leaves little to the advertising manager’s imagination.
But in the midst of all the eyepopping numbers, you notice the vast and growing distance between Bharat and India, between reality and English. And you realise that there is a very good reason why politicians love Hindi and the gau belt.
The combined readership of the top-10 Hindi newspapers (27.98 crore) every day is nearly 8 times the combined readership of the top-10 English newspapers: 3.76 crore.
The 3.76 crore readership of the top-10 English newspapers put together is slightly less than half the daily readership of the no.1 Hindi daily: Dainik Jagran: 7.03 crore.
The top-10 non-Hindi regional newspapers have a readership of 14.36 crore every day, and the biggest of them all, the Tamil daily Dina Thanthi 2.3 crore is read by more people than the biggest English newspaper, The Times of India across its 60 editions: 1.3 crore.
The top-three Tamil dailies (Dina Thanthi, Dinakaran, and Dina Malar) have a combined readership of 4.68 crore which is greater than all the top-10 English newspapers put together: 3.76 crore.
With 3.2 crore readers, the top-two Marathi dailies Lokmat (1.8 crore) and Sakal (1.04 crore) are more read than the top-four English dailies (ToI, HT, Hindu, ET) put together: 2.82 crore.
Likewise, the top-two Malayalam dailies Malayala Manorama (1.6 crore) and Mathrubhoomi (1.18 crore) are read more than the top-three English dailies (ToI, HT, Hindu) put together : 2.51 crore.
The combined readership of the top-30 magazines in all languages across periodicity (8.03 crore) is only marginally ahead of the No.1 Hindi daily Dainik Jagran at 7.03 crore.
In all, Hindi, English and regional language newspapers reach slightly over 40 crore readers in this nation of sava-sau karod (125 crore), i.e. roughly one in three Indians touches a physical newspaper.
The newspaper readership numbers get even more interesting when juxtaposed with the latest BARC weekly data for the viewership of English TV news channels.
According to BARC, the five English TV news channels (Republic, Times Now, India Today, CNN News 18, NDTV) have 20,71,000 impressions each week, or roughly 2.95 lakh impressions a day.
With 7 crore readers a day, Dainik Jagran reaches more people’s hands in 24 hours than the five English TV channels put together do over seven months.
The 10th ranked English newspaper Deccan Chronicle with 13.89 lakh readers reaches 10 times more people than those who watch the top-ranked Republic TV with 750,000 weekly impressions (roughly 107,142 per day).
Which means, the TV-wallahs have an even higher mountain to climb each week, which means they need to plumb even greater depths every night.
Then again, who doesn’t remember NDTV dragging TAM to court when its ratings fell.
Thankfully, IRS and BARC have the same polling agency: AC Neilsen.