Will paid content fly in India?

By , agencyfaqs!, New Delhi | In Digital | October 23, 2007
According to one estimate, the paid content subscription market was worth just Rs 20 crore in 2006-07 - is there any future in this model?

A recent & #BANNER1 & # IAMAI-IMRB survey on e-commerce in India reveals that in 2006-07, the online paid content subscription market was worth a mere Rs 20 crore, a fragment of the Rs 7,080 crore e-commerce market, which is made up of online travel, e-tailing, paid content subscription and digital download sites.

In a paid content or subscription model, a content owner provides consumers access to content for a subscription fee. In India, paid content subscriptions are offered across various categories like news, legal or financial information, online games, audio books or research reports.

For example, Indian Petro Group (IPG) is one such company that offers information related to the oil, gas, power and fertiliser sectors to its clients - ONGC, Lehman Brothers, KPMG and ABN Amro, among others - for a monthly subscription fee of $500 per month. Indian Petro Group owns sites such as Indianpetro.com, Energylineindia.com and Indianfertilizer.com.

Says Santanu Saikia, executive editor, IPG: "Paid content sites offer more and in-depth information than free content sites and such sites usually go through a long gestation period of at least two years before subscription starts." Saikia says, "The size of the paid content or subscription market in India is not more than Rs 20-25 crore, but it will grow in the future if it is nurtured properly."

Neeraj Sanan
In the financial domain, Poweryourtrade.com (from the Network18 Group) provides stock market-related news, advice and analysis to individual investors and traders on a subscription basis. Neeraj Sanan, marketing head, Web 18, thinks that the "paid content or subscription market in India is more than Rs 20 crore". Sanan believes that "customers will pay for content which will help them to make money".

There are websites in the legal domain as well which offer paid content to subscribers. Taxindiaonline.com offers its paid subscribers access to an online library of case laws, notifications and circulars apart from tax related information like Supreme Court rulings on income tax.

In the B2C category, a few portals in the news publishing and online gaming domain are experimenting with the subscription model. As far as news goes, there's a broad consensus that a paid model does not work. 'The New York Times' TimesSelect service was discontinued recently, and there's talk that Rupert Murdoch plans to go the same way for 'The Wall Street Journal's successful paid content model.

Arun Natesh
In India, 'Business Standard' has sought to buck the trend, offering free as well as paid content on its site. A reader can pay Rs 149 annually to get complete access to the archives and special supplements of the newspaper. All other major newspaper sites offer free content. Arun Natesh, general manager, 'Business Standard', explains the divergent view: "Serious users or information seekers are open to paying for relevant and credible content, especially if the price is right. In the long run, subscription revenues will be far more stable."

Though online games in India are almost always free, Indiagames.com allows gamers to download games only after they purchase a subscription package. The fee is between Rs 100-200 based on the download size of the game. Vishal Gondal, founder, Indiagames.com, says, "Worldwide, the online gaming industry works on subscription model and subscription provides more revenue than in-game advertising."

In 2007-08, the paid content subscription market is expected to reach Rs 30 crore. But obviously, the market size of paid content subscriptions remains small. "The paid content subscription market is very fragmented. In general, Indian consumers do not like paying for content," says Balendu Shrivastava, research director, IMRB International. Also, with the free availability of content via blogs, podcasts and video/ photo sharing sites, it does seem tough for publishers to monetise their regular content even in the future.

Sanjay Trehan
But it is not as if publishers are completely overlooking the model. As Sanjay Trehan, CEO, NDTV.com, says, "Consumers are willing to pay for content that is original, exclusive and provides them with value addition." The 'original content' could work particularly for categories like financial, legal and real estate information, where customised and exclusive information can be created. But clearly, it's a long slog ahead to get Indian netizens to pay up for content.