May 10 2009
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Malyalam newspapers eye Gulf as home markets slow down
While many newspapers in Kerala have started feeling the impact of an economic slowdown due to the global financial crisis and Gulf Madhyamam, the market leader in Malayalam newspaper business in the Gulf, plans to start new edition from Abu Dhabi and Muscat (Oman). Kerala is one of the most literate states in India with a combined newspaper circulation of 3.5 million and four Malayalam newspapers are published locally here.
Speaking to Emirates Business, O Abdul Rahman, Editor in Chief, Gulf Madhyamam, said: "The economic slowdown has affected newspapers in Kerala. The volume of advertisement has come down at least by 10 per cent. Mathrubhoomi, the number two newspaper in Kerala, has stopped publishing Dhanakaryam, a financial weekly that flourished during the stock market and real estate boom. The group has also stopped publishing Narma Bhoomi (Humour Land), another weekly.
"As the gold price is very high, advertisement by jewellers has come down substantially and only the big companies are advertising now. Similarly, many outlets of the new breed of retail chains like Reliance Retail, More are closed down due to lack of business.
"Nobody will advertise for essential commodities. When there is more money, there will be advertisement for non-essential luxuries. Due to recession people are not spending on non-essential items."
He was in the UAE as part of a major TV talk show and meetings about Indian election organised by Gulf Madhyamam. Prominent journalists like John Brittas, Managing Editor, Kairali TV; Nikesh Kumar, CEO India Vision Television; and CR Neelakandan were flown in for the election talk show. Some TV channels like Jai Hind and Jeevan TV had conducted such programmes before the election.
The recession has also forced some big publishing houses to stop their local language editions in Gujarati and Bengali.
He further said another problem faced by newspapers is poaching by TV news channels. "News channels are posing a big challenge to the newspaper industry. By offering relatively better salary, about five news channels have poached some of the talented journalists from the print media," Abdul Rahman said.
However, newspapers are not facing an immediate threat from FM radio stations that mushroomed in various cities. "FM radios and entertainment channels are not a threat to newspapers because radio stations cannot air news," he added.
"In the newspaper industry there are wage regulations set by the Wage Board. In the television sector, there is no such regulation and channels can make a good offer and recruit the best journalists."
As competition is heating up in the print media industry in the Gulf, the newspaper is planning major community initiatives to keep its readership intact.
One more Malayalam weekly, Calicut Times, is expected to be launched in Dubai and other print media projects are also under way. Gulf Madhyamam, owned by Ideal Publications Trust, has several editions in Kerala, three editions in Saudi Arabia (Riyadh, Dhamam and Jeddah), one edition in the UAE (Dubai) and local editions from Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar. The Oman edition was delayed because of insufficient printing facility there.
Compared to its competitors, which have either one or two editions in the region, Gulf Madhyamam is intensifying its community activities as part of its 10th anniversary celebration in the Gulf. The newspaper will soon launch an Abu Dhabi edition.
The paper is especially popular among the Muslim population in Kerala, which was an educationally-backward community for long. In the Gulf, it is read by a cross-section of readers.
The elections came as a great relief for the recession-hit media because major political parties, especially Indian National Congress and BJP, have spent huge amounts on print and TV advertisements.
Abdul Rahman said, "During elections, newspapers got some advertisements. The Congress party ran a major newspaper campaign. The Marxist-controlled state government, too, advertised liberally through news channels and newspapers to attract more votes from the electorate."
"If our Gulf editions are included, Madhyamam would be the number three newspaper in Kerala. The Audit Bureau of Circulation does not consider Gulf Madhyamam and Madhyamam as one newspaper," he said.
Abdul Rahman said the number of young readers below 35 years is declining.
"The young people are not keen newspaper readers. The Hindu and Indian Express, two leading English newspapers in India, are increasing their readership among the English-educated young readers. The Hindu, in particular, is focusing on young readers with special educational supplements and other supplements."
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