Anandabazar Patrika: Informing the masses since 1876 (2023)

With patriotic beginnings, the newspaper has been a mainstay in Bengali households since its inception

Question: When and how does a newspaper become a brand?

Answer: When it becomes a clinching reference point for every discussion, be it between intellectuals in air-conditioned rooms or betweenrickshawallahs at the cornerdhaba ; when it is the touchstone that has been moulding every belief and opinion since your grandfather’s generation.

One of the oldest publications in India, theAnandabazar Patrika (now a part of the Anandabazar Patrika or ABP Group), lives up to this definition. It is credited with shaping mainline Bengali thought and opinion for more than nine decades, with its successful campaignAnandabazar ki bollo? (What does Anandabazar say?) summing up the impact it has on people across Bengal.

Patriotic beginning

The Bengali language paper was launched in 1876 in Jessore district, which is now Bangladesh, by the father-son duo of Sisir Kumar Ghose and Tusharkanti Ghose. Named ‘Anandabazar’ after a family member Anandamoyee, the paper did not do well. A decade later, the two men came out with another newspaper called ‘Amrita Bazar Patrika ’ after another family member Amritamoyee. This proved to be successful.

Anandabazar was revived in 1922 by Suresh Chandra Majumdar and editor Prafulla Kumar Sarkar. The story of the relaunch is a dramatic one that has been oft-repeated: the first edition of the paper was printed in red ink and released on the evening of March 22, when Holi was being celebrated. It cost 2 paise, covered four pages, and sold 1,000 copies on the very first day.

The colour of the paper led to it being described as a ‘danger signal’; it lived up to the sobriquet, proving to be a thorn in the flesh of the British with its staunch patriotism. The words ‘Bande Mataram ’ emblazoned on the paper underlined its intention of not just working towards Indian independence, but also playing an important role in nation-building once independence was achieved.

The paper has been lauded for its patriotic spirit that showed incredible courage in the face of British disapproval. In fact, between 1922 and 1947, the editor, publisher and printer were jailed by the British several times for their nationalistic views.

Expanding coverage

The evening paper soon became a six-pager, adding a cartoon strip and in 1923, and it became a morning daily linking up withReuters ,Associated Press andFree Press of India . The same year, a bi-weekly edition was launched for mofussil readers.

Anandabazar Patrika became very popular and was soon competing with its sister paperAmrita Bazar Patrika for circulation. (The latter went into liquidation in 1986.)

In 1931, a press ordinance forced it out of circulation for a few months, but it came back stronger than ever.Anandabazar Patrika was responsible for covering the Bihar earthquake of 1934 with vivid photographs of the utter devastation it had caused. In 1936, it became the first and only Indian newspaper to cover the Berlin Olympics by sending its own reporter to the venue (More than six decades after this event, it was once again the lone Indian newspaper to send a journalist to Stockholm to report on Amartya Sen’s Nobel investiture ceremony). It was also said to be the first to carry the news of Subash Chandra Bose’s daring escape in 1941. Its coverage of Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination in 1948 elicited praise from Lord Mountbatten as the “greatest homage to the Mahatma”.

By 1954, it had become the largest circulated newspaper in the country published from one location, according to the Press Commission Report. It created another record by publishing (jointly, withDesh ) the first large-scale readership survey in India, much before the first National Readership Survey, or NRS.

In 1965, to better reach out to the common man,Anandabazar Patrika shifted its reporting language to colloquial Bengali, retaining the formal version only for editorials. It’s said that thePatrika did a great service to the Bengali language by codifying its grammar and bringing in uniform spelling, punctuation, and usage.

In the next two decades, thePatrika introduced several new magazines, such asSunday (which is now defunct),Anandalok (a celebrity news magazine),Sportsworld (later sold toSportstar ) andBusinessworld (sold in 2013).The Business Standard andThe Telegraph newspapers were also launched during this period.

Several firsts

On the technical front, thePatrika was one of the first in the country to introduce full offset printing and a modular layout for its content. It reportedly pioneered the blueprint of the Bengali linotype, which gave rise to the first ‘Bengali and Hindi’ typewriter. Later, it was one of the important players in introducing Bengali characters in word processing without manipulating the language to fit the software. This preceded Microsoft’s Unicode by almost a decade.

It weathered many problems, including a 51-day strike in 1992, to emerge more sought-after than ever before — its district pages were launched the very next year! It entered the ‘online space’ in 2001 with its internet edition.

By 2005, thePatrika had breached the 1 million circulation mark. Its present circulation — about 1.3 million — makes it the largest single edition regional language newspaper in India; the readership is said to be 5.8 million. On the negative side, it is practically unheard of in the South.

Since 2010, it has published the Fortune India 500 list every year, through the ABP Group’s licensing agreement with Time Inc.

Media conglomerate

The ABP Group has 11 publications, includingThe Telegraph ,Ei Bela (‘This moment’— targeting the youth with film, lifestyle, and sports coverage),Unish Kuri (‘Nineteen-Twenty’ - for youngsters),Fortune India ,Sananda (a women’s fortnightly),Anandamela (children’s periodical) andBoier Desh ; three news channels; and one book publishing business in its fold.

The newspaper has seven printing locations across six cities with complete technological support, including broadband connectivity and satellite uplinks. Digital route mapping enables its availability in every nook and corner of Bengal, with newspapers being sent by any and every method possible — road, train, air, or boat.

A unique distribution strategy — the usage of unconventional selling points like hardware shops, public phone booths, grocery shops and refreshment stalls — has made the newspaper available to the reader anywhere and at any time of day, and not just early in the morning or at news agents’ kiosks. Another initiative in remote areas, like the island Sagar in the Bay of Bengal, was to involve passenger vehicle drivers in sales (for a commission).

Dominating the market

The Bengali newspaper market is estimated to be more than ₹900 crores.Anandabazar Patrika dominates this scene both in advertising and circulation, even though it is the most expensive newspaper. It is a big draw for advertisers who see its huge readership as a potential market for their goods and services in West Bengal.

All newspapers depend heavily on advertisements for revenue, butAnandabazar Patrika brought out two editions sans advertisements — first after Rabindranath Tagore’s demise (1941) and next after the passing away of Satyajit Ray (1992) — as a mark of tribute to the great men.

Anandabazar Patrika has instituted several awards including the Ananda Purashkar; it has also won several prestigious international awards. It was the first Bengali daily to win the SNAP (Specifications for Newsprint Advertising Production) in 2005, and IFRA for printing excellence. In 2008, at the 4th National Awards for Excellence in Printing, it won the Silver for being the best printed non-English daily.

In 2013, it walked away with PrintWeek India Newspaper Printer of the Year Award. The digital version Anandabazar.com recently won its first International News Media Association (INMA) Award for best brand awareness campaign ‘Ananda Utsav 2017 ’.

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