January 19, 2016, was just another winter morning in the beautiful city of Jaipur; it was in the throes of tourist season and gearing up for the famed Jaipur Literature Festival. The newspapers had nothing noteworthy to carry that day, except perhaps that Sarah Palin officially endorsed Donald Trump for the American presidency. The most newsworthy item in Indian media was the marriage of a Bollywood actress to a businessman.
Except for one newspaper. And one team. It was, without a doubt, one of the biggest milestones in the 70-year history of Rashtradoot — the day we launched our English centre-spread, ARBiT, and became Rajasthan’s first bilingual newspaper. Little did we know that within a few years we would be one of India’s most successful newspapers as well!
In 2016, the regional news media industry was increasingly competitive, yet unimaginative; it was increasingly fragmented, instead of united against the tide of an economic slump and disengagement from readers. In a city like Jaipur — vibrant with tourism, arts, culture, history, and joie de vivre, there was a paucity of content that appealed to a broad and intellectual audience.
As an organisation, we felt that the regional newspaper market was not keeping in touch with its readers and was not representing the ethos and evolution in large and small provincial towns of Rajasthan. In short, the regional print industry had not kept pace with the changes taking place.
That was until we became the first bilingual newspaper of Rajasthan. An innovation that uses the print medium in a unique way to bridge the gap between “pushing” content and “pulling” content — giving our readers and advertisers a novel platform. This gave us a distinct advantage over not just regional, vernacular dailies, but national behemoths as well.
Finding a foothold
The introduction of ARBiT — an English centre spread within a Hindi newspaper — was aimed at bringing meaningful leisure “appointment” reading back in vogue. Launching it as a centre spread, not a pull-out supplement or a magazine, was a decision driven by several factors:
- As a core part of the newspaper, it doesn’t affect the cover price of the newspaper. So readers get a “unique, value-added reading proposition,” without having to pay extra for it.
- With a circulation of over 2.2 lakh (220,000) in and around Jaipur itself, ARBiT was reaching a large number of touchpoints in print from the very first day of launch — with no additional cost incurred by either the readers or the newspaper.
- Being the centre spread allowed excellent optics — a beautifully designed page, unrestricted by space constraints — that creates a pleasurable reading experience.
- And finally, as part of the main newspaper, it makes Rashtradoot a truly bilingual newspaper, reflecting the ethos and personality of its readers in the best and most unique manner possible.
Building off initial success
In an age where advertisers and marketers are increasingly questioning the relevance and future of print media, Rashtradoot has answered that for regional media:
- Innovation is key. Over the last decade, there has been little innovation in print content. With readers gradually pulling away from purely “newsy” content, Rashtradoot has managed to “pull” content from readers through ARBiT, thus making the newspaper more innovative and engaging.
- Reader engagement is paramount. Meaningful, engaging, and relevant content, especially in the leisure space, is virtually non-existent in print. With ARBiT “pulling” content from its own readers (ala YouTube), users have a compelling reason to open the newspaper every morning.
- Unique selling proposition that is truly unique. In a market crowded with an English national daily, and several big and small vernacular players, Rashtradoot — being the only successful bilingual daily — provides a unique advertising proposition to marketers.
Since its launch, both Rashtradoot and ARBiT have grown from strength to strength:
- The year after Rashtradoot became bilingual, the newspaper saw a 42% increase in advertising revenue.
- Circulation of Rashtradoot increased by 22% in Jaipur alone.
- We engage with readers in a deep, personal way since we carry their stories every day.
- In times when readers are spending less time on the print medium, ARBiT is reversing the trend; the average time spent with the newspaper is up by 25%.
- Instead of pushing content, we’re pulling content from amateur writers, creating a unique and rich posse of user-generated content unmatched by any other publisher.
- We developed an affinity of a discerning community toward ARBiT by bringing back “appointment reading” in the leisure space.
- In 2020 alone, Rashtradoot was the most-awarded newspaper in Rajasthan — winning awards across national and international platforms — a trend that is carrying forward in 2021 as well.
Today, ARBiT is the largest user-generated content initiative in print in India.