Newspapers played a historic role in the politics and struggle of Bangladesh’s liberation war and democracy. Although print is dying in US and Europe with the closure of many well-established newspapers, in Asia, the picture is not as bleak as in the West. Bangladesh is one of the few countries where newspapers industry may survive for many years despite the fact that some old newspapers closed down while some reduced their circulation drastically in the last two decades. Daily Ittefaq is the country’s oldest newspaper which maintained a good circulation (over 425,000 copies) till the mid-1990s. The circulation of this daily has dropped to as below as 50,000 copies. On the other hand, the circulation of one of the new Bengali newspapers Bangladesh Protidin, founded in 2010, is several times higher than Daily Ittefaq.

Newspaper circulation was always low and that’s mainly due to low literacy rate and poverty. The 24-hour television stations, faster Internet service and social media have further made it difficult for the press to maintain circulation. The younger generations have little interest in reading print versions, they are opting for the digital news services.

“Like the western countries, our print media is also under threat as most newspapers are losing circulation, readership and revenue with the arrival of television stations and online news portals in quick succession,” evaluates Matiur Rahman, Editor and Publisher of the country’s most read and influential Bengali newspaper, ProthomAlo. He believes only some good newspapers that are maintaining standards of journalism with credibility will survive the challenges of TV stations and new media while the rest will disappear in the coming years.

According to the 2016 National Media Survey (NMS), print is the second most widespread media in the country with 23.8 percent readership. The readership dropped slightly, 1.4 percent since 2014. One interesting feature is that print readership hasn’t actually gone down that much even after the rise of TV and Internet. The 2002 NMS found 25.8 percent of the population read newspapers, which was higher than 12 percent in 1995 and 15 percent in 1998. Nielsen Bangladesh 2017 National Media and Demographic Survey also showed a similar trend with 26.9 percent readership in 2011 and 25.68 percent in 2015 but a sudden decline in readership (13.45 percent) in 2017.

Against this backdrop, leading newspapers are adopting new initiatives that include multimedia presentation of news, features, live telecast of events and interviews on Facebook pages. In some newspapers like the Bengali dailies—ProthomAlo and Samakal—and English daily, The Daily Star are investing more on their web outlets to compete with the broadcasters, online news portals and social media.

As per the disclosure of the Information Minister at the National Parliament in January 2018, there are 3,025 registered print media in Bangladesh and 1,191 of them are daily newspapers. Of the dailies, 470 are based in the capital city, Dhaka.

A key feature in this developing country is that newspapers are brought out in every administrative district. The latest counts of the Information Ministry shows there are 267 local dailies that bring out from outside of the capital. It needs to be mentioned that many of the local dailies don’t publish regularly. But there are some popular and reputed ones, being published regularly. For example, Dainik Karatoa, Dainik Purbokone and Dainik Puranchal are popular in the respective areas.

Another astonishing revelation is the number of English-language dailies—as many as 32 English-speaking newspapers are printed, and few of them from outside of the capital. Likemany Bengali dailies, not all the English ones are published regularly. The truth is, except few, English dailies are not in demand in Bangladesh and have a minor circulation.

Newspapers don’t disclose the actual circulation number and there is a tendency to inflate the number to get the benefit of becoming a subsidised newsprint and obtaining the government’s advertisements. So, it is very difficult to know the actual circulation of most of the newspapers in Bangladesh.

According to various estimations, the total Bengali newspaper circulation is around 1.5 million copies. Ten leading national newspapers have over 90 percent of the circulation.

English circulation is also low, around 70,000. Like the Bengali circulation, residents of the capital are the buyers of English newspapers. The Daily Star is grabbing 77 percent of the total English circulation, according to the newspaper.

The number of weeklies is equally high. As many as 1,175 registered weeklies are being published from different places of the country. There are also several fortnightly and monthly print media. Nobody can say how many of them are actually bringing out today.

The media outlets run by each of these publishing companies or groups are outlined below:

  • East West Media Group Limited: KalerKantha and Bangladesh Protidin (both Bengali dailies), Daily Sun (English), (news portal) and News24 (TV station).
  • Mediastar Limited: ProthomAlo (leading Bengali national daily) and ABC Radio (24-hours news and entertainment FM radio station).
  • Mediaworld Limited: The Daily Star (leading English national daily).
  • Beximco Media Limited: The Independent (English daily) and Independent Television (24-hour news and current affairs TV station).
  • Jamuna Group Limited: Jugantor (Bengali daily) and Jamuna TV (24-hours news and views channel)
  • Times Media Limited: Daily Samokal (Bengali daily) and Chhanel24 (24-hour television news station).
  • Ittefaq Group of Publications Limited: Daily Ittefaq (the oldest Bengali daily).
  • Mediascene Limited: BhorerKagoj (Bengali newspaper), Daily Dinersheshe (evening newspaper) and Desh TV (news and entertainment TV).

East West Media Group, Mediastar Limited, Mediaworld Limited, Times Media Limited and Jamuna Group are leading in print publication. In addition to newspapers, East West Media Group, Jamuna Group and Times Media Limited have their own satellite news-based television stations.

ProthomAlo and Bangladesh Protidin are the two leading Bengali newspapers and together they have a circulation of nearly one million copies all over the country. According to data put on the Information Ministry’s website, BangladeshProtidin is the highest circulated daily with 553,300 copies and ProthomAlo is the second with 501,800 copies. Many argue the figures would be less than the ones showed. In terms of quality and credibility ProthomAlo is better than Bangladesh Protidin but people buy Bangladesh Protidin as it provides all news with half of what ProthomAlo costs for each copy.

Three other newspapers—Jugantor, KalerKantha and DainikIttefaq— have the same circulation of 290,200 copies, as per the ministry website data. Again, the actual circulation of the dailies is less than the numbers. As mentioned on the ministry’s website, circulation of The Daily Star is 44,814. The circulation department of the daily claims that on average 55,000 copies are being sold daily. The second highest circulated English daily is Financial Express, a business paper, with 39,000 copies (the actual number is lower). Other English newspapers also have a minor circulation.

Some local newspapers have good circulation. The port-city-based Daily Azadi is the highest circulated daily outside the capital city with 27,000 copies. DainikPurbanchal has a circulation of 15,000 copies and both Daily Karatoa and Daily Purbadesh circulate 14,000 copies.

Despite increasing challenges and a declining trend in readership, the print press still remains influential and the traditional media plays a crucial role in opinion-building. Many in both urban and rural areas still depend on newspapers for stories and information. Although circulation hasn’t gone down drastically, as has been the case in the west, newspapers are not yet dying in Bangladesh. Press is struggling and will survive for another two decades, as many predict, considering the fact that circulation of a few good newspapers is either stable or has slightly increased.