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No Gloom For Newspapers In The Developing World

Today, a fascinating front page story in the Wall Street Journal took a close look at the tensions between Arthur O. Sulzberger and Hassan Elmasry, a London-based portfolio manager at Morgan Stanley. Morgan Stanley, a large shareholder in The New York Times Company, is concerned about its falling stock price. This comes at a time when almost all large newspaper companies in America are going through tough times. In the recent past the Knight Ridder group and the Chicago Tribune Company have been in the news for similar reasons.

Today, a fascinating front page story in the Wall Street Journal took a close look at the tensions between Arthur O. Sulzberger and Hassan Elmasry, a London-based portfolio manager at Morgan Stanley. Morgan Stanley, a large shareholder in The New York Times Company, is concerned about its falling stock price. This comes at a time when almost all large newspaper companies in America are going through tough times. In the recent past the Knight Ridder group and the Chicago Tribune Company have been in the news for similar reasons.

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Step away from the gloom for a moment and you see that there are still parts of the world where newspapers and thriving. In Brazil, China and India there are new titles to chose from almost every month. Buoyed by healthy increases in advertising revenues, media houses are willing to back these new projects.

India, where I come from, has five business dailies (the last was launched on February 1) slugging it out in a growing market. New city specific tabloids are doing well as are the national papers that cater to an audience that is increasingly demanding more news for every rupee they pay. (Magazines are also doing well. With an eye on its huge potential, Conde Nast has already announced plans to enter the Indian market.)

This new investment in newspapers has also significantly hiked salaries for journalists. Like much of the world journalism was a poorly paid profession in India. In the past year alone entry level salaries for some journalists have gone up by as much as 50 percent in the metros. And some editors make as much as top level editors here in the states.

But all this could come unstuck. Most daily papers sell for between 5 and 15 cents relying on advertising to bridge the gap. At these rates it’s not clear how many will succeed in the long run. And then there is also growing Internet use among the younger population, who like their peers in the west, would rather read the news online than have it delivered to them every morning.

No one is as yet sure of how many of these new investments will succeed. There could well be two endings to the story — a happy ending or an ending that mirrors a New York Times Co. type of situation. However it plays out, it sure will be interesting to watch.

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