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The Guardian will need deep pockets to succeed in India, say media agency bosses

The Guardian newspaperIf The Guardian is to launch in India, as the newspaper’s international head has suggested it might because of heavy internet traffic from the world’s second most populous country, it will need to contend with slowing growth for English-language newspapers and “deep pockets” to take on local rivals with huge circulations, media buyers have told Mumbrella.

The paper’s deputy MD of The Guardian, David Pemsel, revealed last week that because of “big pockets of traffic” from the country of 1.2 billion people, India is somewhere the title “should explore in the same way as we did when we came here and the US.”

But Ranga Somanathan, Southeast Asia COO and Singapore chairman of media agency Starcom, said that it is local language newspapers and not English titles that are experiencing the fastest growth in India’s expanding print market as literacy levels rise, and the critical factor for The Guardian would be local relevance.

“There has been a bit of headwind for English-language newspapers in India recently,” he told Mumbrella. “The titles going really well are local-language newspapers. And while English newspapers are growing, their growth rates are slowing down. So if The Guardian does come to India, the big question is how relevant will they be for the local market?”

Will The Guardian India compete with leading mass-market English newspapers such as The Times of India, or will it fill a left-leaning populist niche, Somanathan wondered.

The media agency executive said that while India presents an opportunity for international newspaper publishers as literacy levels rise in tandem and an urban middle class emerges, distribution would be an issue, should The Guardian paper choose to publish a print edition.

The Guardian would need to “crack” India’s newspaper distribution network by establishing a relationship with local vendors that incumbent players enjoy, Somanathan said, adding that the paper would need to navigate government regulations for international news publishing.

“The easier point of access would be through a mobile app, but that would restrict its distribution to India’s urban elite,” he said.

Should the Guardian launched in India in print, it would need to rely on advertising and not copy sales to generate revenue to keep it afloat, Somanathan said.

“Invariably, newspapers sustain themselves on advertising revenue. It used to be the case that newspapers in India would sell for one rupee (US$0.01) a copy. Years later, the price is only around four rupees (US$0.06). You can’t recover the cost of distribution from the cover price. Revenue needs to come from advertising.”

Sam Balsara, the chairman and managing director of Madison Communications, had similar words of caution for the British newspaper.

“From the outside Print may look like an attractive market in India, but real growth is coming from local languages,” he told Mumbrella.

“The advertising market for English print is large, but there is intense competition and readers are used to paying virtually nothing for their home delivered newspaper. So the Guardian better be prepared for a long journey with deep pockets”.

Somanathan said that brand awareness would also be a challenge for The Guardian.

“Awareness is prevalent among India’s intellectual elite, but not the masses. Therefore the paper will need to do a lot of awareness building if it is to fulfil its ambitions.”

The Guardian launched an Australian edition in May of last year, and six months later revealed that it was considering launching in Asia next.

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