As the Indian blockade enters its fourth month, the shortage of fuel and
daily commodities has brought life to a standstill all over Nepal. People
want to know what is happening, so they buy newspapers but the
newspapers themselves have been hit by the crisis.
Newspapers have got more readers, but less revenue because
advertising has collapsed with the economic slowdown caused by the
blockade. Combined problems of circulation, distribution and
advertisement are dragging media companies, which had just started to
recover from the April earthquake, down into an even deeper crisis.
All photos: Xiaotong Xu
“I sell more newspaper during periods of political turmoil,” says Jeevan
Maharjan who runs a shop selling office supplies and newspapers in
Patan, citing Naya Patrika as a broadsheet that has increased its
circulation by more than half since the crisis began.
Maharjan says the taxis queuing for fuel on the street outside are his best
customers. Indeed, taxi driver Prem quips: “I buy a newspaper everyday
now just to find out if there is an end to this crisis.”
Prem waiting for customers in his taxi with broadsheet newspaper.
Even though readership has gone up, newspapers face problems in
increasing their print runs because of the shortage of newsprint, raw
materials, diesel for generators and distribution vans.
Ram Bhattarai, the Circulation Chief of Naya Patrika, added that there are
also problems getting his daily to areas affected by unrest in the Tarai like
Lahan and Rajbiraj. “Transportation and delivery have become a problem
to reach our readers,” he says.
Delivery boys who used to take newspapers house–to-house have also
been hit by the fuel shortage. Santosh Aryal, Circulation Manager at
Himalmedia, says he has replaced motorcycles with bicycles, but it is still
difficult to reach all customers in time.
Most national broadsheets like Kantipur, Nagarik and Annapurna Post
have shrunk to 12 pages or less, and their content is almost devoid of
ads. One media manager told us his publication had lost 60 per cent of its
revenue from advertising and news-stand sales.
Syakar Trading, which sells Honda motorcycles and cars in Nepal, has
stopped all advertising due to the drop in sales, and also because it hasn’t
got new units from India because of the blockade.
“Simply put, we don’t have anything to sell,” Saurabh Jyoti of Syakar tells
Nepali Times, “and even the raw materials for our other industries like
agriculture, tractors, equipment, medicines are stuck at the border. So
there is no point in advertising.”
One of Nepal’s largest advertising agencies, J Walter Thomson Nepal is
also feeling the pinch with business almost down to nil, according to
Managing Director Joydeb Chakravarty.
“No one is buying non-essentials,” he says, “if it is so difficult to find fuel for
a motorbike, why would you want to buy a new motorbike?”
Companies like Unilever which manufactures in Nepal and aims at both
domestic and international market may suffer more intensely, for their
business relies heavily on imports of raw materials and exports of
products. The suspension in production and decline in sales also forced
Unilever to stop advertising two months ago.
Chakravarty explains: “All major advertisers have stopped
advertisements because consumer sentiment is down. No one wants to
Mopping up, Editorial