Vijay Karnataka and Kannada Journalism Part-1

IN Regional Media | 08/11/2004
Vijay Karnataka and Kannada Journalism Part-1


In five years this newspaper has crossed half a million circulation and considerably changed the face of Kannada journalism.




The Kannada newspaper Vijay Karnataka (VK) started in 1999 became the number-one Kannada daily in just two years and crossed a circulation of half-a-million in its third year, perhaps a record among all newspapers in the Indian languages.  This newspaper has now completed five years and in this short period has considerably changed the face of Kannada journalism. VK is the first successful Kannada newspaper of the post-liberalisation era and an analysis of the factors that catalysed its growth may help in a better understanding of the changing relationship between the regional language newspapers and their readers.


This article, in two parts, traces the growth of this newspaper and also examines the special characteristics of the new journalism introduced by VK. This is not a critique of VK but an attempt to understand the factors that have made this paper popular. VK like all media forms is constantly changing and the features of the newspaper described here are as at the time of its fifth anniversary. This part of the article traces the growth of VK and describes the strategies adapted by the management to achieve this growth and in the second part the contribution of the editorial team in making this newspaper such a big success will be discussed. We can begin with a few facts about the Kannada newspaper industry in general.


Newspapers in Kannada and Karnataka


Modern newspaper publishing began in Kannada when Prajavani started publication from Bangalore in 1948.  For historical reasons there have been four distinct markets for Kannada newspapers -South Karnataka (the princely state of Mysore), North Karnataka (districts which were part of unDIVided Bombay), Coastal Karnataka (Mangalore and Udipi) and North-west Karnataka comprising of the districts from the old Hyderabad state.  Prajavani remained the market leader among all Kannada newspapers for more than half-a-century though its sphere of influence was limited mainly to South Karnataka. Samyukta Karnataka and Udayavani had higher readership respectively in the North and Coastal Karnataka. The fourth region did not have any newspaper of repute and was served only by small newspapers published from Gulbarga.


All these three newspapers did try to reach readers in other parts but such efforts were feeble and in a way these dailies  were quite happy with their success in the limited areas of their influence. Kannada Prabha from the Indian Express stables gave competition to Prajavani in south Karnataka and built up considerable readership and garnered enough advertisement from specific fields but it never became a threat to the leader.


The total reach of Kannada newspapers is well above the national average but the Kannada newspaper industry faces some peculiar problems.  English newspapers are more widely read in Karnataka than in any other state.  In Bangalore particularly the Kannada newspapers face competition from all other language newspapers and in this respect Bangalore is the most `cosmopolitan` city in the country.


The newspaper Vijay Karnataka 


Vijay Karnataka, started publication in Bangalore in October 1999. Within the next year three more editions from Hubli, Mangalore and Gulbarga were added and the newspaper achieved the immediate target of having an edition in each of the four markets for newspapers in Karnataka. In the next two years the newspaper started five more editions to ensure better coverage within the larger markets. 

Vijay Sankeshwar the owner of the largest transport company in Karnataka is the proprietor (the Printer and the Publisher in the credit-line) of VK. After the success of VK he started in 2002 an English daily- Vijay Times. Sankeshwar was elected to the 11th, 12th and 13th Lok Sabha on a BJP ticket but he resigned from BJP in 2004 founded his own regional party Kannada Naadu which contested all Loksabha and State assembly seats in the 2004 elections.  The party did miserably in the polls with all (including the Founder) but one candidate losing by huge margins.


The management of the newspaper has given importance to professionalism and has engaged experienced journalists for managing news.  However in the early years of the newspaper two editors left in quick succession but Vishweshwar Bhat the present editor (Executive Managing Editor in the credit line) has remained for quite some time and has contributed in a big way to the success of VK. Bhat has a post-graduate degree in Journalism and had earlier worked as an Assistant Professor in the Asian college of Mass Communication. He was also on the personal staff of the Union Minister Anantha Kumar for sometime. When he started the newspaper Sankeshwar was perhaps influenced by the success of Eenaadu the Telugu daily and saw the entire Karnataka as the potential market for his newspaper. Nine publication centres and the large transport network of the owner have ensured that copies of this newspaper are available even in the remote towns and villages in the entire state early in the morning.


The half-yearly reports of the Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC) are the most authentic source of information on the circulation of Indian newspapers. VK became the number one newspaper in Kannada with a circulation of 380 thousand in the ABC report of July- December 2001 just two years after its birth.  In the next year the circulation further increased by a whooping 157 thousand to make it the first Kannada daily to have a circulation of over 5 lakhs and in 2003 the circulation went up by a further 47 thousand.  The ABC figures on the circulation of VK and three of its main competitors are shown in Table-1


Circulation of Kannada Newspapers


(Figures in thousands)






Vijay Karnataka








Samyukta Karnataka









(Source: Special Supplement of VK dated Oct 3, 2004)


Readers’ Loyalty


It is interesting to note that though VK has grown tremendously it is not at the cost of other popular Kannada dailies. These newspapers are in the field for a long time and it is natural that the Kannada readers have developed a special relationship with them. Contrast this with the situation among the English dailies in the state where the leader has not only lost the leadership but also a substantial number of readers. No doubt the growth of other Kannada dailies has been affected but the regular readers of these newspapers have more or less remained loyal. However these Kannada dailies have been forced to make concerted efforts to retain these readers. VK has brought in mostly new readers and might have become the second newspaper in the household.


Number One Benefit


About 15 years back the number one tag for a regional language newspaper meant immediate gain in the form of more advertisements.  The FMCG companies at the national level used to allot a big chunk of their advertising budgets to the regional language dailies and all this money went to the most popular newspaper in the language. But with the growth of commercial television channels in the regional languages things have changed and now there is very little FMCG advertisements for the dailies. Perhaps because of this there was no visible change in the volume of advertising in VK and it appeared that the newspaper did not get much benefit by its number one status. However things are changing and in the recent weeks the volume of advertising in the newspaper has increased.


Readership Surveys


The Indian Newspaper and Advertising industries believe that the National Readership surveys (NRS) provide the most authentic data on newspaper readership in the country. These are no doubt the largest surveys of the type conducted anywhere in the world with the main objective to provide the most comprehensive database on the Press and other mass media.


The special VK supplement to mark its fifth birthday has also given the NRS figures about the growth of readership of VK and some other Kannada newspapers. These figures are reproduced in Table-2.




Readership of Kannada Dailies

(Data from National Readership Surveys)

(Figures in Lakhs)






Vijay Karnataka








Samyukta Karnataka








          NRS estimated readership of VK at 12 lakhs in 2001, which, increased to 22 lakhs the next year, and in the following year the readership jumped to 70 lakhs. According to ABC in 2003 there was a 9 percent growth in the circulation of VK but according to NRS the readership of the daily increased by 217 percent in this year. One may think that both the figures cannot be true. However both figures could be true and here the problem is not about the circulation or the readership of VK in 2003 but with NRS itself and its method of estimating the readership of different newspapers.

Readers Per Copy

To understand this better one has to look into the per copy readership of different newspapers in different years. In 2001 and 2002 there were just 4 readers for a copy of VK whereas in the same period the average number of readers per copy of Prajavani was 12. In 2003 the number of readers per copy of VK has increased to 12 to catch up with other newspapers.

This is not the first time that a readership survey has grossly underestimated the readership of a new newspaper. Some years back a similar thing happened to Outlook magazine. At that time the survey data showed that just 2-3 persons read a copy of Outlook whereas more than 30 persons on the average read a copy of India Today. This naturally created a controversy and then the explanation offered was the ‘Halo effect’ of established newspapers/magazines- a clear admission that readership surveys grossly overestimate the readership of established newspapers.

Many of the new newspapers may not even know that they are being taken for a ride in readership surveys. VK like all new newspapers suffered this handicap in the earlier years and this could be one of the reasons for VK not getting immediate advantage by its number one status.  Now VK could be happy that it has also obtained a "halo". Kannada newspapers have only recently started using Readership survey data in their promotion campaigns but it looks that they still do not know fully what these figures stand for. For example in NRS only those respondents who are 16+ years of age are included.  Mentioning this base will be to the advantage of the newspaper but most of the costly promotion campaigns of Kannada newspapers omit this vital information.

Distribution and Promotion

The single most important reason for the fast growth of Vijay Karnataka is its easy accessibility.  Copies of the newspapers are available at 600 AM in all the towns and villages in the state. In most places VK is the first newspaper reaching the roadside newspaper stalls. The management has been using innovative marketing techniques such as door-to-door promotion and outdoor advertising through hoardings. In the early years it also resorted to television advertisements but now it appears the roles are reversed- at least one popular TV channel increasingly looks forward to VK for its promotion.


Price-cutting is another strategy used by the management to boost sales. For quite some years the normal cover price of Kannada newspapers has been Rs.2 on five days in a week and Rs. 3 on Sundays and Fridays. VK started the price war by reducing the weekday price to just one rupee. The other newspapers were forced to follow suit and the readers are happy. There was a temporary truce but the price war has restarted. The low price has been one of the main reasons for the growth of VK and the other newspapers have been able to retain their readers by similar price-cutting. In this circulation war the district level newspapers have been the worst sufferers.


To be concluded.


Related articles on the Hoot:

"Analysing Indian Language Newspaper Readership"

"Vijay Karnataka helps  launch a regional Party"


BS Chandrasekhar is based in Bangalore has written a book on the Sociology of Mass Communication, which is recently published by Kannada University, Hampi. He retired as Director, Audience Research, Doordarshan.) Contact:

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