Socio-economic Characteristics of
Newspaper Readers in Latin America

Lima, Peru
Lima, Peru (photo credit: Deborah Levy)

People read newspaper to obtain information about many things, such as wars, disasters, politics, government notices, business deals, stock markets, opinions, classified ads, sport news, television program schedules, celebrity lives, theater reviews, social mores, weather forecasts, chess games, restaurant guides, book commentaries, etc.  Except for a few photos and the occasion drawing, the information is communicated through written words.  This means that a minimal amount of literacy is required to read and comprehend the content in newspapers.  Combined with the fact that newspapers costs money to purchase, the newspaper audience is expected to be relatively affluent and better educated.

The affluent and educated audience for newspapers constitutes a desirable target for advertisers of high-end products, such as business services, financial services, travel, high technology, automobiles.  In the following table, we show the socio-economic characteristics of the weekday newspaper audiences in several Latin American countries.  The data are presented in the form of indices, where the index of a socio-economic class is calculated as 100 times the percent of weekday newspaper readers in that socio-economic class divided by the overall percent of weekday newspaper readers in that country.  These indices can be interpreted as follows:

Country/Socio-Economic Class Index of Weekday Newspaper Reading
     Alto (6-5-4)
     Medio (3)
     Bajo (2)

(sources:  TGI, Argentina, TGI Brasil, TGI Chile, TGI Colombia, TGI Peru)

In all countries, the weekday newspaper readership indices are monotonic functions of socio-economic class --- that is, the higher the socio-economic level, the higher the rate of newspaper readership.  The strength of this correlation is weakest in the case of Peru.  The reason for this departure is not just statistical fluctuation, but because there is a fundamental difference in newspaper publishing and reading environment between Peru and the other Latin American countries.

The TGI Peru study was a consumer survey of 1,009 persons between the ages of 12 to 64 years old in the Lima metropolitan area conducted by IBOPE Peru in 2000.  The measured universe consists of 5,380,000 persons, of which 50% are weekday newspaper readers.  The definition of a weekday newspaper reader is the international standard of "yesterday reader."

In Lima, there are over a dozen local newspapers available.  Generally, when one thinks about newspapers, one conjures up the image of stodgy, wordy newsprint carrying the voices and opinions of the establishment.  But Lima is unique in having a much broader, and more extreme, variety of choices.  This situation grew out of a set of historical conditions, in which the majority of middle- and lower-class citizens became gradually and deeply disillusioned about the establishment (e.g. corruption charges against President Alan Garcia).  It was in this atmosphere that an obscure agronomist Alberto Fujimori came to be elected as president in an astonishing victory over the establishment's choice, the internationally well-known writer Mario Llosa Vargas.  This populist uprising has led to the emergence of newspapers of tone and substance that are probably not seen elsewhere in Latin America.

We give here a simplified typology of newspapers in Lima today:

In the following table, we have provided the indices by socio-economic class separately for these Lima newspapers.  These distributions are consistent with our brief characterization of these titles.  We have also added the WWW links for them, and if you have never seen them before, this may be an eye-popping experience.


Index for "AB" Index for "C" Index for "DE"
El Comercio 226 108   40
La República   144 153   40
El Bocón (sports)   96 107   96
Libero (sports)   88   97 107
Ajá     76 107 105
Ojo     66 145   80
El Chino   55 119 104
Todo Sport  (sports)   52 137   92

(source:  TGI Peru)

To show how the readers of these newspapers have different expectations and needs, we provide in the next table their reactions to this statement, "I read newspapers more for entertainment than news".  Indeed, the English language fails here, as the 'newspapers' today may no longer be papers that carry solely the news.

  Readers of El Comercio Readers of Ajá or El Chino Readers of El Bocón, Libero or Todo Sport
% Completely Agree with statement 9% 26% 22%

(source:  TGI Peru)

(posted by Roland Soong on 8/7/00)

POSTSCRIPT:  The Wall Street Journal, September 28, 2000

Peru's Press Is Now Less Cowed by State
By Matt Moffett

On Monday, the day after spy master Vladimir Montesinos fled to exile in Panama, much of the tabloid press here had a field day attacking the once untouchable head of Peruvian intelligence.  "I Slept With Vladi," read the headline of a story in which an exotic dancer recounted her supposed amorous adventures with Mr. Montesinos.

Only a couple of weeks earlier, such a story would have been unthinkable.  The tabloids in general were closely allied to Mr. Montesinos and President Alberto Fujimori --- there was strong evidence that they were controlled directly by Peruvian intelligence --- and they specialized in skewering enemies of the Fujimori government.  But now that Mr. Montesinos is gone, forced to flee the country after a bribery scandal, the loyalties of many of Peru's media and political actors are clearly up in the air.

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