Although the online subscription market in India is in its early stages, it already is as big as some of Europe’s largest markets. And, according to Greg Piechota, researcher in residence for INMA, there’s no reason the South Asia news media market can’t create a business model around paid online subscriptions.
Piechota, who leads INMA’s Readers First Initiative, shared his insights during the INMA South Asia News Media Summit this week, sponsored by the Google News Initiative, Stibo DX, and the Indian Newspaper Society.
Piechota compared data points from India with those in the United States, United Kingdom, France, and Italy. When looking at Internet-savvy, affluent news consumers, India compares favourably to the largest markets in the West.
“And of course, as your country is developing so fast, we can hope that you will also reach the level [that is] much bigger than those markets sometime in the future,” he said, adding that even though the U.K., France, and Italy are some of the richest economies in the world, India has enough of a base to find the same kind of paid online success.
“You have a similar or even larger number of people that have Internet access, that access online news, that live in a middle- or upper-class household, that make digital payments [and] visit news Web sites. So you are in a very good spot, hopefully, to grow this business very much soon.”
Learn from churn
Finding that growth depends upon reducing churn, and Piechota used examples from Aftenposten and The Washington Post to show what they had done to successfully address churn. The takeaway from those learnings is that engagement is key to reducing churn.
“If you want to succeed with a paywall, you need to have readers who are very loyal. And you need to grow them by basically getting them to the Web site, registering them, then recommending more content, getting them to download your app, sign up for a newsletter and so on,” he said.
“This way you will basically be able to prepare the field for future subscription growth.”
He acknowledged the market in India differs from the rest of the world: “News is so cheap, so inexpensive, and mostly free on the Internet,” Piechota said. He added that people in India may be more price sensitive as well.
But based on his research, which drew from sources including the United Nations, the government of India, Reuters Insititute, and more, Piechota saw a market rich with potential. Now, it’s up to media publishers to make the right moves to capture that market. That means not looking for quick fixes but rather investing in long-term growth.
“There are no silver bullets,” Piechota said. “It is about building an engine for growing subscriptions. And performance is usually linked to having a long-term strategy in which you have a clear place for digital subscriptions.”
Preparing for growth
That strategy involves internal alignment and collaboration, Piechota said: “When different departments start to align along the same goals and maybe the same metrics, then they are forced to collaborate to basically deliver on those metrics. And they will have shared goals, shared KPIs, and they will move toward the same direction.”
Then, through operational excellence, testing, and data-based decision-making, the company can better understand its users and provide what they are looking for. It leads to creating a reader-first culture that is designed for long-term growth.
“You will find what works in your market by doing that, rather than just looking around the world for one silver bullet. Because there are none.”