Chennai: In a trend setting tie-up between two leading newspapers, the Tamil newspaper Daily Thanthi and The Economic Times, all the 14 editions of the Daily Thanthi now carry one page of business news (around 13-15 news stories) from Economic Times.
It is not a simple content syndication agreement as the Tamil daily carries the financial paper's masthead on its business page. The agreement between the leaders in their respective segments came into effect on January 15, 2004.
A similar tie-up was earlier seen for disseminating international business news between The Financial Express and The Wall Street Journal. Another business paper, Business Standard carries one page of news stories sourced from Financial Times with the FT logo alongside the news stories.
However, The Economic Times-Daily Thanthi deal has certainly made the Tamil Nadu media and others in the media-related world, sit up.
Says S Viswanathan, editor, Industrial Economist: "It is an interesting development. Let us now see how readers react as the Tamil daily never had a base for business news."
Welcoming the tie-up K Srinivasan, managing director, Prime Point Public Relations, a public relations firm says: "It is truly a proactive move. The tie up paves the way for a new class of reads of business news."
Interestingly, Daily Thanthi's competition remains unperturbed, at least outwardly. Says R Lakshmipathy, publisher Dinamalar: "Some years ago we had an agreement with The Economic Times - both for news and advertisements. But it didn't work out well."
According to him, translating hardcore business news into simple Tamil proved a major initial hurdle. "Further, the business news didn't attract much readership and that is why Tamil business magazines are not very successful," he argues. The editor of Dinamani refused to comment on the industry leader's move.
Nevertheless they are making counter-moves. While Dinamalar is now publishing more business news, Dinamani is planning to revive its business supplement.
According to Industrial Economist's Viswanathan, the satellite channels have assumed the job of news breakers. "As such competitive concepts like `first to publish' is slowly fading away."
This is more so in the case of news stories for which a newspaper is not bought or commonly known, for example business news, in the case of Daily Thanthi. Even in the case of publications of the same genre, content sharing is becoming popular, provided the articles are of a specialised nature.
But what piques everybody about the deal is the likely reader response to the full page of hardcore business news.
The Tamil daily is generally perceived as a newspaper for those with a limited education from the low or lower middle class backgrounds, with limited purchasing power who buy or read the paper for its racy political, crime and cinema coverage presented in simple Tamil.
"It is a wrong perception that is being perpetuated. The successive National Readership Survey has proved otherwise. In some areas we lead even The Hindu," argues R Chandran, general manager, administration, Daily Thanthi. "The tie up with The Economic Times is a brand building exercise for us," he adds.
However, Chandran declined to answer questions on the revenue sharing arrangement between the two dailies for advertisements carried in the Daily Thanthi's business page and whether The Economic Times pays for publishing its masthead or the content fees charged by it.
According to him, Daily Thanthi's one crore readers (net paid circulation 6.86 lakh, which effectively translates to14 readers per paper) belong to different stratas of society, ranging from the poor, middle, upper middle and the rich cutting across educaton levels. Compared to English dailies, the page views of vernacular papers are high.
The business page is perhaps targeted at the lower-educated but affluent reader. Such readers scan the English dailies but their interest in business news is restricted to the stock markets. However, they read Tamil papers with far greater interest and it is this segment which can certainly be expected to read with interest business news in their mother tongue, presesnted in a simple style.
The Tamil paper realises the importance of presenting business news in a simple and lucid style that also synchronises with the paper's overall character. Therefore, it has engaged an experienced Tamil business journalist, T P Sridharan, editor, Namadhu Business, a Tamil business magazine to head this section. Sridharan was earlier with Capital Market, The Financial Express and Dinamani.
Regarding the selectioon of its news stories, Chandran says: "First preference is given to news related to Tamil Nadu followed by national and international news."
Adds Sridharan: "We give a mix of agriculture, industry and commodity reports." He has access to The Economic Times' news server in Bangalore to allow him to choose the following day's stories.
Even if one agrees with its baiters about the Daily Thanthi's readership, the paper seems to be succeeding in its strategy, judging by the reader response.
Readers react favourably
Says K Chandrasekar a self-employed professional: "Earlier I never used to read business news as it was not available in a Tamil daily. I just used to see the stock quotes in an English daily. But now I make it a point to read Thanthi's business page, thanks to its content and layout."
Recalling a news item that gave analysed why Indian business need not fear China, he adds: "It was really news for me, as I have heard people being nothing but apprehensive about China.'
And what about its style? Is the business page as racy as the other pages of Daily Thanthi? "I don't have any complaints since the language is simple and lucid. Business news cannot be written like crime or political stories," he answers categorically.
According to Sridharan reader reactions are taken very seriously and news is offered accordingly. "For instance we have started publishing The Economic Times Investor's Guide on Mondays, the very day it is published in the business daily. This is in response to readers' request."
Sridharan is upbeat about the extremely favourable reader response. "The news item about neem-coated urea resulted in several calls from the farming community to the fertiliser companies. The response is tremendous," he says with pride.
He also mentions how friends in The Economic Times office in Chennai have realised the reach and impact of the mass-circulation Tamil daily and the new class of readers for their stories. Even the office security staff from the Times group who used to give them barely a cursory glance, now look at them with admiration and even provide feedback.
Time to change
And it is only a matter of time before the Daily Thanthi starts focusing on other pages as well, to revamp its image. There is a general perception that other pages can also do with a facelift in terms of layout, design and newsprint quality that would assist in enhancing its image, particularly its competitors are ahead in all these aspects.
There are some issues, which concern the staff of the Tamil daily. For instance, they are not given by-lines for their exclusive articles, while the names of The Economic Times' reporters are mentioned without fail in the Daily Thanthi. Already well known among English readers, the business daily's reporters are getting more recognition than ever. This could cause heartburn within the Daily Thanthi, feel some media sources.
On the marketing front, Daily Thanthi's advertisement executives can expect corporate doors to open for them soon. As per company law provisions, there are several statutory advertisements that are required by companies to be published in a vernacular newspaper. And Daily Thanthi is better suited to cash in on that. For the reporters of The Economic Times, the already open corporate doors will open wider, thanks to the Tamil paper's phenomenal reach.
Certainly it is a win-win deal for the two papers leaving the other English and vernacular papers gaping.