Print as a digital ally and what that means for the future of India’s news media industry

By Prajjal Saha

Learn from the debacles of the West

Sanjay Gupta, president, INMA South Asia Division and CEO, Jagran Prakashan, inaugurated the 7th South Asia Annual INMA conference at New Delhi on August 22, 2013.

Gupta initiated the two-day long discussion with the remark that industry stalwarts gathered together at the event need to find new ways of unique value proposition in the new age economy. He said that the future of print media is quite bright in the south Asian market, but we need to learn from the mistakes of the West.

He stressed on the point that the print industry should find new ways to combat the tough times of slowdown and devaluation of the rupee.

According to Gupta, we are — and will be — a hybrid print + digital news industry. In the times to come, monetising the relationship with readers will be critical. Therefore, it is necessary to move from a “print only” approach to a multimedia approach.

Print and digital complement each other

Giving an overview of the 7th South Asia Annual INMA conference at New Delhi on August 22, 2013, INMA South Asia Director Arunabh Das Sharma, president of Bennett Coleman & Co. Ltd, put forward the question, “Is it print versus digital, digital first, or print first? Actually, it’s none of these, but print + digital. And, digital blends itself to the print environment.”

According to Das Sharma, while the print circulation in half the world (South Asia, Africa, East Asia, West Asia) is going up, complimenting this growth in the other half (Europe, North America) is digital, which is more relevant, with print taking a backseat.

Since digital lends itself to the print ecosystem, and print gels well with digital, print + digital is a winning combination with much value across platforms for readers and a brand for all others. It is, therefore, a solution provider for advertisers and a voice to the powerful.

Referring to a study that said that there was no either/or in the consumption pattern in media, but rather, a multiplicity of consumption, Das Sharma said print in India was more relevant than ever.

It is, therefore, important to understand the strength of the medium. He pointed to the fact that when cable television was introduced, people assumed it would take on the print head on. But now the situation was reversed.

According to Das Sharma, the next wave of consumers can only be reached by improving multi-screen marketing and understanding how consumers relate to each screen differently.

India in “a never before world”

Strategist and planner Rama Bijapurkar started the first session of the 7th South Asia Annual INMA conference with questions such as why Indians think they are different and why India is in “a never before world.”

Bijapurkar said that though India’s growth is often compared to that of advanced economies based on business economic figures, India will continue to maintain its own sanctity and not be one of them.

India today is not what America was 20 years ago, nor is it what America will be 20 years hence. She argued that similar economic figures do not necessarily mean that two countries will be alike in nature. For instance, if the current PCI (per capital income) of China is the same as that of Poland’s a few years ago, one cannot assume that China will become like Poland.

Bijapurkar was of the opinion that success models can’t be just copied or wholesaled from elsewhere. We need to find our own solution. The idea that there is a uniform evolutionary path is not correct and many corporations have already realised that.

Applying the same logic to the media industry, Bijapurkar further questioned why media consumption habits should be the same in two different parts of the world. She was of the opinion that Indian media companies need to looks through a different lens to read the changes happening around. A small change in India could also be large, and niche could also be profitable.

Reiterating her statement that India is in “a never before world,” which is also the title of her upcoming book, she said that never before in the history of mankind has it happened that people with modest incomes have been subjected to so much technology.

But, consumers have always surprised marketers. While the consumer is far more ready to embrace change, the supplier takes time to even anticipate. Corroborating her statement, she gave the instance of how the Indian consumer preferred flying when the prices of flight tickets came down.

Talking about the new environment, Bijapurkar said that demographic segments comprised of women and the rich benefitted most from liberalisation. Moreover, in the new environment, regionalism has seen a rise — be it in politics, consumer brands, or in the media.

She concluded by saying that the myth surrounding the Indian middle class no longer exists, and the country would be well to acknowledge the changes.

Transition from the traditional to the new

Everyone is talking about embracing newer technologies and doing away with the traditional mode.

But, what is this new path? And how does a news media house operate?

This was the subject of discussion in the second session of the first day at the 7th South Asia Annual INMA conference, in which senior industry members such as Rajiv Verma from HT Media, Amit Dixit from Blackstone, and Devendra Parulekar from Ernst & Young (E&Y) debated the issue.  

Verma kicked off the discussion with the statement that be it new media or traditional media, the objective has been and remains the same for centuries. Since the time of the Roman Gods, the job of the media was to communicate with people on what’s happening around the world and predict the future.

Today, while the objective remains the same, the technology has changed. He stated that in the future, newer technologies will have to embrace older media.

As per Blackstone’s Dixit, while the traditional media has been more mass-oriented, the trend now is to move towards customisation and micro-targeting. New media is allowing consumers to decide the kind of news and analysis they prefer, where they want it, and how they want it.

Two-thirds of the population of India is youth. For half of this segment, the preferred channel for news is Internet, followed by friends and print media. In such a scenario, the news consumption pattern in the market is bound to change.

However, he added, the scenario isn’t scary for Indian media companies at all – an assumption that is prevalent based on the experience of the Western world. He said that there are lot of differences in the economies of the game between Indian media companies and those in the West.

The per day cover price for The New York Times is Rs 130, whereas for an Indian newspaper, it’s only Rs 2.50. Besides, the business model is also different for Indian companies from those of a newspaper in Europe or America, as Indian companies are less dependent on classified advertising. 

E&Y’s Parulekar opined that the changes technology has brought to media are distinct enough. The impact has not only been felt in terms of consumption, which we all focus on, but in the areas of content creation and distribution. The good thing is that the result in the last two segments has been positive. User-generated content generation and creation has been a possibility because of the technology.

Print thriving in the new era

This was one of the most power-packed sessions of the conference, with speakers such as Ravi Dhariwal of Bennett Coleman & Co. Ltd, D D Purkayastha of the ABP Group, Jacob Mathew from Malayala Manorama, Pawan Agarwal of Dainik Bhaskar Group, and Sanjay Gupta from Jagran Prakashan participating in the discussion.

Industry veterans indicated key reasons why the print industry in India hasn’t suffered a blow while digital has taken the world by storm.

They opined that in a country such as India, where there is a large population of youth with a rising literacy rate, there is only going to be a rise in young readers. There is a favourable environment facilitated with growing incomes. Besides, the women readership in India offers scope for improvement, and for that the industry needs to understand women's requirements and customise content accordingly.

With the industry continuously investing in building the reading habit among its target segment, newspapers are priced in India in such a way that they offer the best consumer value.

Dhariwal stated that the extremely competitive nature of the industry and the innovative initiatives undertaken are what keep the industry going. He cited the example of the Mumbai market, where only five million copies of English dailies were sold when The Times of India was the solo player. But that figure has risen to 20 million copies in seven years since newer players forayed into the market.

Purkayastha said that irrespective of digital or print, the keywords were relevant content. Newspapers still enjoy the highest credibility and possess the power to inform and inspire. No other medium has the ability to customise local news as do regional newspapers with bureaus everywhere for content aggregation.

In India, print media has also streamlined itself with the social character of the people. It has started classifieds, matrimonial ads, youth section, opportunities, education, and medical issues that cater to different needs of different people.

Mathew stated that the Indian print media — with its constant interaction with the consumers — was credible while digital media was faceless. Therefore, the scope for innovation in advertising was much higher in print than on digital.

Talking about the advantage the Indian media has, Gupta said India could deliver good content and at a much lower cost than the West.

It was further stated that the comparatively lesser penetration for digital in South Asia meant more potential for print.

In terms of ad spends, as a percentage of GDP, India presents a huge opportunity. News media companies diversifying into TV, digital, radio, and thereby, offering a bouquet of media vehicles help attract more ad revenues. Sectors such as retail and real-estate will continue to look to print media to advertise their products to their consumers.

TV and digital entered India much later than it did in most other markets. Hence in people’s minds, news is — and will always be — synonymous with print brands.

In the developed countries, however, print media organisations survived during the television boom, but eventually failed because they heavily invested in their newsrooms, did not manage operations, and were not able to regionalise, unlike Indian print businesses.

There is no one problem for all

The last session of the first day of the 7th South Asia Annual INMA conference turned out to be an interesting one, with Earl Wilkinson, the CEO of INMA (International New Media Association), holding centre stage. Wilkinson offered quite a different perspective to the discussion.

He started the session with the interesting comment that that there seems to be a common problem for all media companies. But the truth is no two media companies have the same objective.

So, how could the problems and solutions be the same? Some companies were present in the business for money, while some were in the business for journalism, which has transformed countries and changed democracies.

INMA’s aim was not just to save journalism, but to also fund good journalism, Wilkinson said.

He also offered a very different yet interesting perspective to the grand sale of the legendary newspaper, The Washington Post.

When the newspaper was sold at a price that it could have got a decade ago, many saw it as the death of the print media. Wilkinson brought forth the positive aspect to this entire deal. He said that the sale meant new players were interested in the print business. New players with new energy levels and motivation will only be good for the industry.

The Internet is changing the way business is conducted in media, he said, and the new path is not easy as there is no road map to chart a path. In such a scenario, innovation and experimentation become crucial factors for growth.

There is a lesson to be learnt for the Indian media companies, as well, from The Washington Post deal. The deal was not about just profit and loss, but to create an environment for the brand to survive better, Wilkinson said.

He listed out a few action items for India media companies, as well:

  1. Allocate more budget on experimentation and innovation, as this will drive growth in the future.

  2. Realise the challenge is not in the ideation, but in learning how to manage ideas.

  3. Transformation requires a longer landing field.

  4. There is a need to understand the difference between survival and success.

He also suggested the need to create a coalition of willingness where the competitor becomes the friend, and this is for the larger benefit of the industry.

Wilkinson further stated that there was a need for employees that will enhance the future generation.

About Prajjal Saha

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