Nepali Times
The Himalayan at 1


When The Himalayan Times was launched in the Kathmandu market exactly a year ago, sceptics predicted it didn't have much of a future. The advertising cake was just too small, they said.

There was reason to be sceptical. Selling 12 pages, half of them in colour, and all that for a newstand price of Rs 2, how could they ever make money? But a year down the line, the newspaper has carved out a niche for itself, if not financially at least in terms of readership and reach. "We are number one among the English language newspapers in town and sell 20,000 copies every day," says Ravin Lama, managing director of International Media Network Pvt Ltd, the publishers. Lama says his paper's first year was "both exciting and frustrating".

"We wanted to go for something completely new, offer a different kind of package, value for money. We wanted to inculcate the business of reading, especially among the youth," Lama told us in the paper's Anamnagar office. "In that sense, we have notched success. But the frustrating part is that our counterparts did not want to face the challenge."

It took time, but the competition did respond. The Kathmandu Post has been at it for ten years and is owned by the very successful Kantipur Publications group. Eight months after The Himalayan Times rolled off the press, the Post added four pages and redesigned its masthead and layout adding new departments and columnists. Although it kept its newstand price at Rs 4.

The other English dailies in town also responded: Space Time Today hired a new team of editors and reporters. And even the venerable thirty-something Rising Nepal went colour and put on a new get-up.

One debate that has failed to die down is the controversy over The Himalayan Times' Indian connection. Asia Pacific Communications Associate (APCA) Nepal Pvt Ltd is a joint venture between Indian and Nepali investors and owns Lama's International Media Network Nepal Pvt Ltd. Editors and Publishers of rival broadsheets formed an association, Nepal Media Society, to lobby the government to cancel the "back-room entry" of foreign direct investment in media in Nepal because it would "jeopardise the national interest".

But APCA seems to have its legal side pretty much sorted out. Lama insists that the controversy should now be laid to rest as his company has been registered and doing business complying fully with the law of the land. "Our critics saw some sort of hidden agenda in launching of this newspaper. But I must tell them that the only hidden agenda behind this publication has been the six-letter word 'profit," he quipped.

But will running an English newspaper in Nepal ever bring profit? Parsuram Kharel, former editor of The Rising Nepal says: "The market for English language newspapers now is too limited and too crowded. Right now the Kathmandu market may be suitable for a couple of dailies and a couple of weeklies only."

Would mean that a shake down is overdue? Not necessarily, says Lama, who is now planning a new Nepali sister broadsheet. "In fact, it is the Nepali publication from which we could earn bread and butter," he adds.
Yubaraj Ghimire, editor of Kantipur and The Kathmandu Post, agrees that English language media needs time. "Most are subsidising their English publications with other editions," he says. Ghimire claims the Post is still the number one English paper in town, and sees a bright future because English readership in Nepal is growing rapidly in an era of globalisation.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)