Bangladesh newspaper industry bucks global trend in circulation slump, but how?

  • Shahidul Islam, Senior Correspondent, bdnews24.com
    Published: 2020-01-12 23:51:23 BdST

Amid an explosion of online media, print newspaper circulations have been dropping every day, but government documents show publications in Bangladesh are bucking the trend.

Circulations of the country’s top newspapers in terms of copies sold have not declined, rather increased, according to the latest data released by the Department of Films and Publications or DFP.

Owners, however, have argued at different times while asking for government facilities that the proliferation of internet media has threatened the newspaper industry.

Questions have aroused now over the DFP data based on information provided by the newspapers.

The Prothom Alo Editor Matiur Rahman, the then chief of the Newspaper Owners’ Association of Bangladesh or NOAB, had said in a pre-budget discussion in 2018: “Newspapers are losing readers globally to TV, online [media]. Our estimates show that we have been losing readers at a rate of 5 to 10 percent in the past few years.”

In a pre-budget discussion the next year, he said, “The newspaper industry is navigating a crisis as ad revenue is declining along with the number of readers much like what’s happening globally.”

DFP data, however, show that more people are buying Prothom Alo than ever. According to data for Jan 1 this year, the newspaper’s circulation was 501,800, the exact number showed on the same day two years ago.

Interestingly, the number of readers of the Bangladesh Pratidin, which tops the DFP list of most circulated dailies, has not changed either like No. 2 Prothom Alo. It sold 553,300 copies on each of the two days before and after as many years.

What’s more intriguing is that circulations of the newspapers ranked after the Bangladesh Pratidin and the Prothom Alo on the list – the Kaler Kantho, the Jugantor, and The Daily Ittefaq – have remained exactly the same – 290,200 each.

Circulations of The Daily Amader Shomoy and The Daily Janakantha, however, jumped in two years to reach the same amount of the Kaler Kantho, Jugantor, and Ittefaq.

Now 290,200 is the circulation of each of the five top-selling broadsheets.

The Daily Samakal has a daily average reader base of 271,000, the Daily Sangbad 201,100, and the Daily Bhorer Kagoj and Amader Shomoy 161,160 each.

Among the English newspapers, The Daily Star sells most – 44,814 copies a day, the same amount of last year. The Financial Express and The Daily Sun’s circulation is 41,000.

Officials at the information ministry and department said they made the list from data provided by the authorities of the newspapers. The officials, however, doubt the data themselves.

“We’ve also asked [the newspapers] why there is a sudden rise [in circulation]. They said they are sending copies to all the districts even if they have to send fewer copies to some districts. They take these into account,” DFP Director General Mohammad Ishtaque Hossain told bdnews24.com on Sunday.

“We will review it,” Information Secretary Kamrun Nahar told bdnews24.com about the accuracy of the newspaper circulation data.

As many as 706 newspapers are published in Bangladesh now, 365 of them from Dhaka alone, according to the DFP.

AD RATE

Asked why the newspaper circulations were rising, information ministry officials pointed to the rates for government advertisement charged by the dailies.

“A government committee is supposed to fix the rates of government advertisements for each newspaper based on their actual circulation. But in reality, the DFP fixes the ad rates following the list based on circulation figures provided by the newspapers. It has been going on for a long time,” an official said. He requested anonymity as he was not authorised to speak to the media.  

AMA Muhith, the finance minister of the government’s previous tenure, had questioned the newspapers’ circulations after a meeting with NOAB.

Incumbent Information Minister Hasan Mahmud on Nov 7 last year also spoke about strengthening monitoring to prevent the newspapers from taking extra facilities by showing high circulations.

“After becoming minister, I have seen that there are newspapers with a circulation of 1,000 in Dhaka and 5,000 countrywide but they declare 150,000 to get facilities,” he had said. 

The Daily Sangbad’s government ad rate had been Tk 859 when it had a reader base of 127,000 last year, according to the DFP. The rate increased to Tk 900 in 2020 with a rise by 74,100 in its circulation.

The Amar Sangbad’s circulation rose by 35,100 and ad rate by Tk 44 in two years. The Bonik Barta, The Daily Inqilab, the Doinik Bartaman, the daily Bhorer Dak and several other newspaper’s circulations and ad rates have also spiked.   

Circulation of the dailies Manob Kantho, Inqilab, Protidiner Sangbad, Bangladesh Khabor, Amar Sangbad, Amader Orthoneeti, Manabzamin, Bhorer Dak, Amar Barta, Alokito Bangladesh, Bhorer Pata, Naba Chetona, Dhaka Pratidin, Bartaman, and Mukto Khabor is over 150,000, according to the DFP.

Ad rates of The Financial Express, The Daily Sun and other English newspapers also rose along with their circulations.

“Ad rates rise along with circulation,” DFP DG Ishtaque said, referring to the rules of fixing the rates.

Asked if the government check the data provided by the newspapers, he said, “They actually want more. But we check the data by conducting surveys. There’s a committee. It speaks to them. Then a reasonable [circulation] is fixed. It’s not accurate all the time, but round figures.”    

He skirted a direct answer when asked whether he believes the numbers provided by the newspapers, saying, “It’s hard to say. Because I can’t discredit the data my office is giving. But we publish these after review.”

Implementation of the government-fixed wage board for the industry is also related to ad rates.

Authorities of as many as 102 newspapers in Dhaka and 61 outside the capital have told the government that they were implementing the Eighth Wage Board. These newspapers, including 25 English dailies, account for 26.63 percent of the newspapers in the country.

But workers of many media outlets said the newspaper authorities were lying instead of giving correct information on implementation of wage board to the government.

NOAB’s incumbent President and Samakal Publisher AK Azad did not receive phone calls for comments on the issue.