The humble newspaper as an index?

As someone brought up in Chennai, i have long been used to starting my day with The Hindu newspaper.  I don’t remember reading the newspaper much during my time at BITS, Pilani except for the occasional copy of the Hindustan Times . I guess,  somehow i couldn’t get myself to read other newspapers due to TheHindu disease which afflicts most Chennai-ites.

Sometime in the beginning of  1988, I reached Mumbai  and for the first time, I laid my hands on a copy of the Times of India newspaper and i should say it captivated me. What impressed me the most was the number of pages in it compared to relatively puny looking Hindu newspaper that i was familiar with.  I didn’t think much about the difference in size at that time, but that information was definitely filed away somewhere in my brain, i am sure.

Later in Dubai, I read the Khaleej Times and Gulf News and they were not as bulky as the Times of India. It is when I reached New Jersey in the year 1990 for my first stint in the USA, that the bulkiness of the newspaper really hit me – New York Times included as many as 3 big supplements on a sunday with a full fledged magazine thrown in. Even the local Star Ledger had lots of pages.

In my second stint in the USA from 1996 onwards, I was a subscriber of New York Times, St. Petersburg Times (when in Florida) and the Star Ledger when I was in NJ and the Wall Street Journal.

I could never get through the entire newspaper on any given day and especially on Sundays the task of reading the entire newspaper would be a marathon. I always used to wonder if anyone reads the entire newspaper and if not why does it have so many pages?

Okay, I am sure you are thinking – so what is the big deal about all this with the newspapers?

Recently, on our tour of Egypt, I had a chance to read the Egyptian Gazette – it was a puny newspaper with not more than 10 pages.

That is when the Aha moment struck me – is it possible that the bulkiness of the newspaper is an approximate indicator  of size of the economy?  Egyptian economy is not that strong. That would explain why Mumbai, India’s financial nerve center would have a big newspaper. Same explanation for the New York Times from New York, the world’s financial nerve center.  Same explanation for the relatively small size of the Hindu newspaper from Chennai which is not so economically powerful.  I also happened to notice that the Hindu newspaper has grown in number of pages reflecting the growth of the Chennai economy. Or maybe it is my imagination – looking for data to support my theory (called confirmation bias).

I did some Googling to see if anyone else has talked about this idea of the number of pages of a newspaper serving as an economic index. I couldn’t find any and again it could be my confirmation bias 🙂

I haven’t thought this through completely and I don’t have too much data to support my theory other than my own observations which is not more than a handful.

I also don’t know why there is such a correlation? What exactly influences the number of pages in the newspaper that connects it to the economy?  Is it advertising?

If any of you have any bright ideas either in support of or against this theory, please fire away your comments.


  1. Quote

    Interesting Question. The size of the newspaper is proportional to the number of subscribers, in turn meeting their varied interest. If you see in india, The Hindu is only available in TN. But The Hindustan Times or Times of India is availabe nationwide so more categories of people with varied interest are reading the newspaper so the size is bulky. Same is the case in US too, news papers like St.Pete times or Post Gazette are published for the needs of the local people and their interest.But newspapers like New york times is available nationwide in any given news stand so it has to meet the interest of all its subscribers so it has such a bulky content.

    So as the no. of subscribers increase the content size increases.

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    Hi Sukumar
    Even I used to be a big time fan of the Hindu in kerala.When I moved to chennai it of course turned into a addiction . Economic strength apart , I also think that the news paper size is a bit reflective of the culture of the society. If the society is too diverse, the news paper guys need to come out with lots of different sections/supplements to cater to all kinds of ppl.
    The Hindu had for long just had the Saturday Young world for kids and rest for the biggies. But with time and a more demanding younger generation coming in, they have pepped up number of pages for friday rev, more space for IT sections etc…
    Ya, may be at the end of the day related to the economic dev of the place 🙂

    In hyd’bad TOI, lots of pages on masala perhaps to keep up with DC.I somehow feel that lot of factors influence the no. of pages.Good one to ponder upon.

    And yes, I have moved to US on my first stint.Couldn’t even catch hold of the newspapers on Thanksgiving day though 🙂 All sold out by 8,and each weighed at least a ton with all the Ads.

  3. Quote

    Good one to think over. The weight of a newspaper may be a crude index of the economy. But what about newspapers in vernacular? If you take TN, Dinamalar could be the heavyweight while our traditional Dinamani and Dinatanthi may be featherlights. Why is it only the english newspapers heavier? Do people shun reading or the coverage is not as broad as an english one? One reason I see is that business is not covered as extensively.

    Infact, most of the newspapers can squareoff their costs just by ads, and they can be distributed free of cost. The subscription cost is only an additional revenue. In S’pore few newspapers (both english and chinese and one is published twice daily) are distributed free of cost at malls and tube stations. Some are even delivered at door. Are there any free newspapers in TN?

  4. Quote

    Interesting correlation Sukumar. Maybe it is one of those ‘correlation without causation’ thing. I feel the size is directly propotional to the diversity of the audience, as Renjith suggested and to the competetion. (Does Hindu size increase have anything to do with the arrival of DC)

    The diversity maybe due to economic growth, lot of people from different parts of the world tend to go to places where economy is booming. It would be interesting to track the trend of Chinease newspapers. Even though economy is booming, there may not be much diversity in it’s population.

  5. Quote
    priyaraju said December 3, 2007, 9:42 am:

    I don’t think diversity is the main reason. There’s precious little diversity in some of the Southern states in the US. And yet – their main newspapers are bulky.

    In Dubai, I was surprised by the humongous size of “Khaleej Times” & “Gulf News”: The same papers were smaller 20 years back.

    Another interesting observation is the number of cartoon strips. Back in the 80s, the only cartoons would be “Woody Allen” published sometimes on weekdays in “The Hindu”. And “Bruin the Bear” on Sundays. Now, there are at least 6 cartoon strips on weekdays alone.
    Of course, the US has a riot of cartoons & Sundays are extra-special. Wonder what that’s connected to.

  6. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said December 3, 2007, 9:55 am:

    Thanks Sujatha. I am sure the number of subscribers is a key number. From what i know, USA Today and NY Times are the top circulated newspapers in the USA, but a St. Pete Times or a Star Ledger has more or less the same heft as the NYT eventhough they are regional newspapers with a lot less circulation.

    Thanks Ranjit. Nice to hear about your US stint. I am sure you will have a great time. Interesting point on diversity.

    Thanks Mahesh. Vernacular papers may not have that much circulation and as you say they may not cover much about business. There are free newspapers in TN and elsewhere like the Mylapore Times, Anna nagar Times etc which cover the local news better.

    Thanks Archana. Diversity is definitely an interesting point. Competition also going to be important i think. I think Sujatha’s first point also reflects the diversity as in diversity of interests. But you answered your own question? Diversity of people is likely to be strongly correlated to the economy as you say. So indirectly it is still the strength of the economy.

    Thanks Priya. You maybe right, but as Archana says, even that diversity is ultimately linked to the strength of the economy. As for Cartoons? That is an interesting observation as well. Could be connected to diversity (more types of people means more types of cartoons) which is in turn linked to the economy?

  7. Quote
    pk.karthik said December 4, 2007, 3:02 am:

    Interesting Pt Sukumar…but i feel it could be related to the populatiion of the City too…

    Being a Hindu fan myself ..I used to read the Hindu Vizag and Hindu Coiimbaotre during my stints there ,,and size of paper was substantially smaller…infact we used to get metro plus just once a week.

  8. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said December 4, 2007, 3:32 am:

    Thanks Karthik. Population is definitely a factor, but think about this – Chennai’s population is close to 12 Million and Cairo’s population is 20 Million, the number of pages don’t seem to correlate with that. Whereas the St. Pete Times catering to the Greater Tampa area which has probably 2-3 Million people has a heft that is comparable to the NY times.

    Your Vizag and Coimbatore experience seems to be in line with what i would have expected. both are small economies and hence the small size. Don’t you think?

  9. Quote

    I think the size of the newspaper has some relationship to the population being served in a local area. For example, San Francisco Chronicle and San Jose Mercury are pretty big newspapers when it comes to their size – especially the Sunday one. If you see the contents, around 50% (perhaps even more) is dedicated to local news. On the flip side, even though USA Today may boast of a larger set of subscribers, it pales in terms of size, especially when compared to San Francisco Chronicle and San Jose Mercury. And between, San Francisco Chronicle and San Jose Mercury, the SF chronicle beats out SJ Mercury – they almost serve the same population, but the chronicle probably has a larger number of subscribers.

    One other thing to be noted is also the amount of pages/space allocated for ads. For the 2 news papers mentioned above, probably 20% would be taken by ads. Here is where the correlation between economy (or affordability) and size of newspaper comes in. I will use this correlation again later.

    When it comes to Indian news papers such as the Hindu and Times of India, I believe they are more of a national news paper and percentage of content serving a localized area would be less. So, in comparison to US news papers, their size would still be less. The fact that Times Of India is larger in terms pf pages could be related to affluency mentioned above. I am curious to know the space taken up by ads by TOI compared to Hindu.

    Now, the question was asked about local newspapers such as Dhina Thanthi and other tamil news papers. These papers may server a larger population than “The Hindu”, however the kind of population it serves is more rural/township areas. Folks here are not that affluent and particularly do not care about the ads in the paper.

    I understand that I have restated what has already been mentioned by others before me. My point is that there is no one factor that dictates the size of a news paper. It is a combination of the above.


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    Sukumar (subscribed) said December 5, 2007, 8:25 am:

    Thanks Ganesh. That’s insightful. USA Today is a good counter example for the correlation to the economy.

    The other point you mentioned on population size – the counter example is Cairo which has a 20 MM population with a puny newspaper. Chennai and the Hindu is also a counterexample. As I mentioned above St. Pete Times which serves a relatively small population comapred to SF papers is pretty bulky.

    I think your point about vernacular papers and their subscriber base’s lack of affluence is spot on.

    Overall, I think the population argument needs to be thought of in 2 categories – one yardstick for the first world and another for the third world. Eventhough the third world has large populations, the economic strength is meager which is why I think the economy correlation is a better one. As you say the number of ads indirectly reflects the economy. Times of India definitely carries more ads than the Hindu.

  11. Quote


    I concur with you. Looks like there needs to be two categories, and within them population and economics could be used to judge the size of a paper.

    A slight aside – When I came to the US, I was really surprised to see the number of pages the news papers dedicated to local news and happenings than national ones. Not only that, these local news took precedence in terms of front/first page print. And I always wondered why? Is it because of the more individualistic/capitalistic nature of the country? Or did they not care about national politics and what affects/afflicts the country large? I cannot buy this latter argument, because in times of national crisis, the whole country comes together as one and rallies around quickly.

    The individualistic nature of the people could be the partial answer. Perhaps, the reason why we see Hindu and TOI dedicate more pages to national news could be because we are still socialists in mind? There is some credence to this theory, since I am seeing some papers dedicated to extremely small communities such as “Mylapore Times”, “Adyar Times” etc. Perhaps as India becomes more individualistic and capitalistic, we will soon see “Chennai Times”, “Coimbatore Chronicle” etc.

    Yet another sidebar: The first time I read Indian Express (IE), I was surprised to see columns that started in the first page, but continued in other pages. In “the Hindu”, any column that was started in a page always finished in that page. Looks like IE wants to hook in the reader with all the important news in the first page. This was disconcerting a bit initially, but something I have gotten used to.


  12. Quote

    Reminds me of the Seinfiled quote – ‘its amazing that the amount of news that happens in the world every day always just exactly fits the newspaper’ !

    Well, from what I learned with my experience with the industry – there are just too many factors determining the number of pages – Advertising being primary and Subscriber base secondary. The number of pages can be varied by day and by week and the Newspaper operations will almost always be flexible to accomodate one last ad, especially in todays declining newspaper subscription.

    Ad spend is almost proportional to economy – so Sukumar, your conclusion is on target for Commercial Local Newspapers, National newspapers with local editions too count. In the same length, so will be the number of available channels (radio/tv)?

    On a side note, newspaper is one industry that can leverage the Longtail business model – calls for a separate post.

  13. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said December 19, 2007, 10:42 am:

    Thanks Sibu. I think you are right about Radio and TV as well, but the difference is that there are some radio channels (xm, sirius) and tv channels (premium channels like HBO..) are totally subscription funded. So i think there will be a correlation to the economy maybe a bit different.

    Maybe you should write a post on how newspapers can leverage the longtail. look forward to it.

  14. Quote

    Interesting… I also vaguely remember Tibet being the only/ one of the places where there is no news paper as there is no news really to publish. But, not sure if that can be related to ‘size’ of economy. I would rather relate that to how peaceful people’s life are.

    NYT is really bulky and I honestly don’t think anyone is going to read it end-to-end, or any other news paper for that matter. 🙂

  15. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said December 25, 2007, 10:47 pm:

    Thanks. Tibet would be an aberration due to the variety of issues it faces.

    Yeah, NYT is really bulky.

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