LIMA, Peru -- This seaside capital, popular with tourists searching for Peru's best cuisine, also happens to host the hottest-selling newspaper in the Spanish-speaking world.
A tabloid called Trome, with splashy headlines on the cover and enter-to-win prizes inside, sells nearly 700,000 copies daily -- more than any of the papers sold by its parent Grupo El Comercio, including the company's flagship daily of the same name. That's more than Argentina's top-selling Clarin, more than Mexico's popular La Prensa, more than Spain's El País.
With the newspaper industry in decline across the U.S. and other developed countries, print titles in Latin America are booming thanks to rapid economic growth that has advertisers hankering for space in traditional channels. Peru's Trome hit on an especially successful recipe for moving papers.
"The issue isn't the mix" of news, sports and entertainment coverage, says Pedro Jose de Zavala, central marketing manager of Grupo El Comercio. "The issue is that Trome speaks to Peruvians in the C level" -- referring to an aspiring middle class on a scale of A to E -- "in their language."
Founded in 2001, Trome has had the benefit of timing: Peru's rapid economic expansion has ushered millions of people into a growing middle class, people who are increasingly willing to spend the few extra coins in their pocket on a morning newspaper. Advertisers know this, said Alfredo Coronado, senior consulting manager with PwC in Lima.
Peru has averaged 6 percent growth per year since 2004, he said. "This generated economic stability and a boom in publicity. There was growth in the C and D classes, and this created an environment that prompted print media to segment out newspapers."
Trome speaks to the aspirations of the upwardly mobile: car dealerships promote easy financing; banks use prizes to lure a largely unbanked population to open checking accounts; schools advertise education for technical careers. Popular segments include an advice column from a "waitress," a character called "La Seño Maria." The paper doesn't show as much gore, or display as much skin, as other tabloids in the category -- key for the mothers, said De Zavala, who decide whether the paper enters the house or not.
Trome also hooks readers with weekly prizes, scholarships and other promotions. A recent article quoted the winner of 5,000 soles, or $1,795, as saying he'll use the money to pay off his debts.
Maria Elena Otiniano, a market researcher with Grupo El Comercio, laughs off the suggestion that people buy the paper for the prizes.
"Trome is an efficient combination of content -- of news, entertainment, a lot of useful content and a good percentage of emotional content," she said.
PwC projects newspaper circulation in Latin America will grow 10 percent through 2016 and the same for Asia Pacific markets. In Peru, total newspaper circulation rose to nearly 1.9 million in 2012 from 1.2 million in 2007, according to the Society of Journalism Businesses of Peru, or SEPP.
But PwC expects declines across the developed economies belonging in the world's top 10 newspaper markets: Italy, the United Kingdom, Germany, South Korea and Japan will see a contraction of up to 2.5 percent through 2017, while the United States could face the worst retreat, of more than 2.5 percent.
PwC says a core group of eight markets -- China, Brazil, India, Russia, the Middle East and North Africa, Mexico, Indonesia, and Argentina - will make up 22 percent of total global entertainment and media revenues in 2017, up from 12 percent in 2008.
Every day, on the corner of a busy street in Lima's Barranco district where she has run a newspaper kiosk for 45 years, Eudomila Paucar sells about 80 copies of Trome.
"It's just that it has news and word searches and crossword puzzles -- and on top of that, prizes," Paucar said.
Peruvian print newspapers will likely one day face the difficult fate of their U.S. counterparts. De Zavala says Grupo El Comercio earns online between 5 percent and 10 percent of what it earns in advertising in its print publications, including Trome -- a similar predicament to the low online advertising rates in U.S. media.
"One day it will happen in Peru," he said.
Photo: Nacho Espejo