A panel on ‘Why is publishing continuing to thrive in South Asia?’ at the INMA South Asia conference in New Delhi saw a mixed bag of observations from industry veterans on the subject.
Enlisting reasons, Ravi Dhariwal, CEO, BCCL, pointed to environmental factors like the consumer story, demographic headway and value to consumer delivered by newspapers. “As an industry, we are investing in habit formation; the industry is competitive and innovative,” he added.
DD Purkayastha, MD and CEO, ABP, said that newspaper industry is witnessing growth in circulation of paid dailies over the last five years with distinctive growth in South Asia. He reasoned, “Penetration of digital media is much less in South Asia, and thus, newspapers have a huge headroom. In India, the penetration of internet is about 14 per cent compared to other countries. The regional newspapers have a greater ability to customise. Strong growth in newspaper advertisements is leading to a virtuous cycle. Newspapers have witnessed 59 per cent growth in advertisements over the last five years, according to WordPress Trends. Newspapers remain credible sources of information and we have the ability to deliver innovative multi-media solutions as well.” He noted that technology was an opportunity and not a threat for newspapers.
'Print media must innovate'
Jacob Mathew, executive editor, Malayala Manorama, pointed out that while digital media cannot match the advertising options that print offers (half-page or full-page ads, inserts, etc.), “Print media should take the lead and innovate.”
Pawan Agarwal, non-executive director, Dainik Bhaskar Group, enumerated, “What we deliver cannot be compared with other stories in the West.” But he said that Indian regional newspapers could learn from evolved markets, about content, of how it can be a mix of local and national news as well. “Advertisements serve as content as well where newspapers have tried to evolve themselves. While the readers have time in the morning, before they leave for work, content has to be there. Newspaper is an ideal platform for retail advertisers,” he noted.
He also requested the attendees and panellists to make a collaborative call to readers and make them aware that they are paying peanuts for access to newspapers.
Sanjay Gupta, president, INMA South Asia division, and CEO, Jagran Group, advised caution for newspapers, in surviving competition not from the digital media, but from television. He urged publishers to keep costs low and optimise where possible, adding that newspapers came out with the option of regionalisation, while ‘TV is still getting there’. Concurring that it is difficult to predict technological advancements, he pointed out that ‘any company that doesn’t have financial leverage would fail’, on account of increasing costs, including in the newsroom, which ‘will increasingly become multi-media’.
On monetising the tablet as a medium since most of the readers are switching to it, Gupta noted, “I do not see it happening in the near future. We can think of pricing a physical thing, like a newspaper, but it is difficult to monetise digital content in India. While only premium content can be priced, as a newsroom, how much premium content can you generate is also the question.”
Dhariwal asserted that there was still time before monetising tablet content and readers.
News Media Outlook 2014
Concluding the first day of the conference was Earl J Wilkinson, CEO and executive director, INMA, who spoke on ‘News Media Outlook 2014: A look at South Asia’ . He opened his presentation with the Washington Post deal enumerating that the newspaper had experimented various times in the past five years with open-source innovation, buying and selling assets and diversifying revenue streams - but had not succeeded in maintaining profits.
On the learning from The Washington Post deal, he said, “The Washington Post sale implies that you (Indian newspapers) need to create budget room for experimentation; no one business model will replace lost revenue; challenge not ideation, but system management; transformation requires a longer landing field.” He said South Asia was treading towards a ‘slow-motion transition’ to multi-media.
In 2013-‘14, Wilkinson noted, the bigger emphasis would be on filling the revenue hole left by print ad migration. “The revenue opportunity to fill print ad hole include ad revenues, content marketing, equity plays, portfolio extensions, search advertising, second-wave mobile, sponsored content, subscription bundles, transactional e-commerce, video,” he said.
Keywords to watch out for
While Purkayastha picked localisation as the buzzword as new media houses take shape, Dhariwal said it would be customisation. Mathew underlined that newspapers will have to think on having a multi-media approach, even as Gupta emphasised differentiation between media houses, which might ‘increasingly become alike’ in the wake of digital integration.
Agarwal pointed out another area for concern: “Time spent on newspaper may decline and as publishers, we might not even get to know it.”
Wilkinson surmised proceedings on day one with emerging brand attributes for news media of the new age: convenience and relevance.