Why The Hindu needs to obsess about the TOI threat

Can The Hindu continue to lead the market for English newspapers in Chennai? Within three years of launch, The Times of India (TOI) claims to sell 2,45,000 copies in Chennai, just 30 percent short of The Hindu’s 3,56,000. That makes TOI a close number two. Says Rahul Kansal, chief marketing officer at the Rs 5,000-crore Times Group, India’s largest media company; “We are giving The Hindu a close run for its money.”

The Hindu’s circulation and readership have increased in recent years. There hasn’t been the kind of negative impact predicted,” rebuts Siddharth Varadarajan, editor, The Hindu.” Or so wrote Vanita Kohli-Khandekar and TE Narasimhan in Business Standard.

The question, whether The Hindu can continue to lead the market, is one that many have been asking since the launch of the Chennai edition of The Times of India.

A screengrab from the newspaper's advertisement on YouTube.

It’s a logical question to ask – based on watching what The Times of India has done in other cities. The paper is the leader in Mumbai, the leader in Bangalore, the leader in Pune, a close number two in Delhi, number two in Hyderabad, number two in Kolkata — and number two (for the moment) in Chennai.

And it might be a good time to remember that, in Bangalore and in Hyderabad, The Hindu had been the clear number two paper in both cities, relegated to number three now.

The Times of India is used to long, hard battles, and newspaper wars are clearly long and hard.

In addition to the basics of distribution and low cover prices, the war will be fought on multiple fronts — editorial, advertising sales and rates and marketing.

Let’s take a look at how they stack up today.

The dangerous, false assumption

Starting with the launch of The Telegraph in Kolkata in the early 1980s, incumbent leaders have presumed that they know what content readers want – and that the challenger delivers inconsequential and unwanted content. This assumption has led to the challengers finding it relatively easy to attack an existing newspaper which has demonstrated little inclination to change. The extension of this assumption is that readers are happy with the status quo.


Dismissing the challenger’s editorial as frivolous, trivial and of poor quality is a mistake made many times in the Indian newspaper space. The Statesman did it with The Telegraph in Kolkata (and now they aren’t even in contention), Deccan Herald did it with The Times of India, Maharashtra Herald and The Indian Express did it with The Times of India in Pune.

DNA, when they launched in Mumbai, assumed that readers were ‘suffering’ The Times of India and were ready for change.

Hindustan Times has been, perhaps, the only newspaper to have not messed up so far. It has not presumed that its readers will not switch to The Times of India, and has held on to its lead in Delhi.

The value of advertising to the reader

The Times of India’s predatory advertising rate strategy for their new and growing editions is well known – and is designed to tempt national advertisers into including the new editions for small incremental costs. Many ads, therefore, make it to The Times of India while not appearing in the competitive titles. Readers buy a newspaper for the editorial as well as for the advertising, and The Times of India scores on this front.

Monday’s Kochi edition, for example, has a front page solus ad for Volkswagen, and ads for NIIT, Dr Batra’s, Toshiba-JSW, HDFC Home Loans and Kotak Bank which are quite evidently a ‘national’ buy.

The additional benefit to readers is that the pagination is increased, thanks to the ads, and the ‘raddi’ value is considerable – and great for sampling. In Kochi, for example, The Times of India has a Rs 2 cover price; Monday’s pagination is 20 pages.

The Times of India group has, historically, been involved with the advertising community, from the launch of Brand Equity, to former Benett, Coleman and Co Ltd (BCCL, publisher of TOI) President Pradeep Guha’s stewardship of the Bombay Ad Club, to the current president Bhaskar Das playing the same role. The group has also been involved with Ad Asia, first brought to the country by Pradeep Guha, and Sunil Lulla’s role in the advertising awards of the Ad Club is notable. This involvement gives the Times ease of access and depth of relationship with decision makers in advertising and marketing.

Marketing, promotions and events

The Times of India leverages the various assets of BCCL to create reader interactions and promotions. As importantly, many events are held primarily to wine and dine major advertisers, creative and media agency professionals and A Listers. So events created by Zoom TV, Times Now, ET Now, Times Music and the magazines under WorldWide Media are all used to ‘gratify’ stakeholders; appearance on TV and photographs in page 3 supplements are great ego-boosters, however frivolous they might seem.

It’s for these reasons why The Hindu should be obsessing about the threat from The Times of India. They will come hard at The Hindu on circulation, ad sales, marketing and editorial fronts.

That’s why the shareholders of The Hindu need to close ranks. There are certainly considerable differences of opinions in the two ‘camps’ that together own The Hindu, but these differences need to be aired privately, not in the public domain.

It’ll be an additional chink in the armour —  which The Times of India will exploit.

And that’s unnecessary.

Updated Date: Feb 13, 2012 12:45 PM

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