Confession: I am not familiar with the English language newspaper industry in Bombay, so please bear with my ignorance here.
Everyone knows what kind of a tabloid the TOI is and I will refrain from providing more evidence to prove the same. For the uninitiated, you can check out this and this for TOI's latest gaffes though I think all you need to do is to go over to the TOI site anyday. (Yes, I know I did not link it. Its deliberate).
But here's the question that's been bugging me for a long time - If TOI is as bad as it is(which it is), how come it is doing so well? Especially after it got its current makeover? As of last count, its apparently being read by 7.4 million people. Now, I'd like to believe that these 7.4 million people probably figured that buying TOI is cheaper than buying regular toilet paper or buying plain water but hey, the quality sucks even then. So whats going on?
Is it that people are just used to buying TOI and plain inertia keeps them from switching? Not really, I'd assume the switching costs are pretty low for a newspaper. So where's the competition and how are they doing? I believe HT made its foray into Mumbai recently. Anyone knows how they are doing? I also heard about this new DNA thing. What are they upto? And why is that it took anyone so long for anyone to get into this market in Mumbai? I'd assume for a newspaper conglomerate, the barriers to entry wouldn't really matter in this industry. Or would it?
I have heard from my Bombay friends that regional newspapers do well in Maharashtra. Is that true of Bombay as well? I know that in my native Kerala, almost everyone buys the Malayalam newspaper(we have some really strong ones - Manorama, Mathrubhoomi, Kerala Kaumudi and ofcourse Deshabhimani for the party members) and the English language paper is usually just an afterthought. So very few people really care about the English language newspaper. I'd assume that in Bombay, as cosmopolitan as it is, this wouldn't be the case. So back to square one - why is TOI doing so well?
I was talking to a friend about this sometime back and he brought up another interesting thought - he thinks that we, as a society, are moving towards other media for our daily news and so we don't really care about newspapers anymore. His point was that almost everyone watches the 9 PM NDTV news nowadays and if you want more news, they are on 24 hours anyways; so the function of a newspaper is in the process of being redefined. I can see this happening to an extent - in the US, for example, very few people get the newspaper for the daily news. If they do, they just turn to the Sport section! (Ofcourse this can also be attributed to indifference, but thats a topic for some other post.) But a good number of people here get the Sunday editions as it has information about local arts, happenings, cuisine, sports, gossip etc.
Last but not least, the answer we don't want to hear. Is it that TOI is doing so well because they give people what they want? Maybe all we want is celebrity gossip and made-up news. TOI could be reflection of our wants, thoughts and delusions. It could just be our mirror and we get what we deserve. And unless there are enough people who want an alternative newspaper, there won't be one. Are we sure that there exists this critical mass?