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Times, HT in price war

Nithya Subramanian

NEW DELHI, July 13

THE two big dailies are slugging it out once again. Both Times of India ToI and Hindustan Times (HT) have slashed the masthead prices to Rs 1.50 on weekdays between Monday and Saturday for Delhi.

And the price reduction was also extended to the Sunday edition. HT brought down the cover price of its Sunday edition to Rs 2.75 from the earlier Rs 3.50, while TOI cut the price from Rs 2.90 to Rs 2.

But it's the Delhi market which is party to the price game. So much so, the prices of the two top dailies in Delhi are far lower than dailies available in other parts of the country. Even vernacular dailies in smaller towns like Patna are priced at a much higher Rs 3.50.

According to media planners, the Delhi market is extremely competitive with the two dailies running neck-in-neck, unlike the other metros where there is a clear leader. Also, due to the presence of several new multinationals, the advertising growth rate of Delhi is the highest, something that the newspapers are targeting.

The recent reduction of cover prices has happened because the gap between the two top dailies has narrowed down considerably and this is seen as a move to increase market share.

"The entire exercise is obviously to increase circulation. In Delhi, TOI came quite close to HT (a gap of about 50,000 or so between them), but HT managed to remain ahead,'' said a Mumbai-based senior media planner. But, whether the numbers actually go up will have to be seen.

Mr Rahul Kansal, Joint Managing Director, Leo Burnett, said the immediate impact of the price reduction would lead to dual subscription. "The prices are so affordable that most homes would subscribe to both the papers,'' said Mr Kansal.

This may, however, not translate into increased readership numbers and is also not likely to bring in new readers into the fold, said a senior adman.

An increase in circulation numbers could result in ad rates going up substantially. "This will happen at a later stage only when the price reduction translates into circulation,'' he added.

But with this, media planners fear severe undercutting. Said the Mumbai-based media planner, "Each one of the two leading dailies will offer heavy discounts to prevent the advertiser from buying space on the other. The fun is just beginning.''

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