session on Day 2 of the Indian Magazine Congress, 2007, discussed what could be the future of magazines in the digital era and how significant it was for publishers to digitise their content.
The panel was moderated by Pradeep Gupta, managing director, CyberMedia. The speakers included Mohit Hira, director, Indiatimes.com; Anurag Batra, exchange4media.com; Patrick E Kenny, Qiosk.com; Surya Mantha, Web18 Holdings; and Sanjoy Narayan, India Today Group Digital.
With growing technology, readers today had become 'screenagers', spending more time on screens on the Internet, mobile and other digital media. They consumed content, not just through one medium, but using several ways to source it.
The publishers needed to understand that to penetrate deeper into the target audience, the content today had to be format neutral. Format neutrality would allow readers to access the content from any digital medium and further help drive global consumption.
But it was important to remember that online content should not be an exact copy of the print version. Online content would drive consumption only when it was interactive and unique. He said by way of example that after reading the front page of a newspaper, a reader might not necessarily go through each page that followed, but could jump directly to the sports section or any other section of his choice. The digital format had the advantage over print, of formatting content according to user preferences. He said that the web portal, Timesofindia.com, received 60 per cent of its traffic from NRIs. Because the content on the portal was formatted according to each city, NRIs preferred to read news about their respective cities rather than the main edition news.
Anurag Batra, editor-in-chief and managing director, exchange4media.com, indicated that the shift to digital would save lots paper and resources and make the content more accessible. Digitisation of content was currently not so popular because publishers were not putting their best foot forward and investing the necessary amount of capital in it.
Batra said that the challenge for the web was to measure the quality of hits received by a website. The B2C digital space was still at a nascent stage and would take some time to grow. But content digitisation made absolute sense in the B2B space. Most business executives these days worked online and consumed the services of the web. He gave the example of web portal Forbes.com, which till last year had revenues of $65 million, and has done as well in the digital space as its print version.
Talking about differentiation between online and the print content of a magazine, Patrick E Kenny, executive vice-president, Qiosk.com, pointed out that most magazines in the US currently had the same digital content as the print one. The advantage of having a replica was that this concept was familiar to the readers and easy to sell to the advertisers. The disadvantage was that this format was not at all user friendly and did not take full advantage of the technology.
But even with the same content, publishers these days were taking the benefit of flash players to increase interactivity. He then cited the instance of 'Golf Development World', a magazine for developers and golf course owners in the US, which was providing its readers the feel of reading an actual print magazine in the online format. On accessing the online version, a reader could actually turn each page of the magazine and even hear the sound of the page flip over. The portal also featured full page advertisements in the video format and provided more interactivity with the user.
Surya Mantha, chief executive officer, Web18 Holdings, highlighted that in a good month, 25-30 million people used Internet services in India. There already existed a growing audience that was ready to consume content on the web. The only thing that could be holding back publishers from digitising their content was poor infrastructure in the country. External macro factors such as lack of availability of free-flowing power in many towns in the country, lack of affordability of a personal computer and other market problems, if resolved, could provide a huge boom to the digital industry.
The panel discussed that with readers taking to multitasking and wanting more content on various digital media, the interactive and user-generated formats of content would become highly successful. Some examples are Wikipedia, YouTube and MySpace. E-paper, in all available digital formats, could provide greater reach and depth to publishers and held huge potential in the future for today's magazines.