FICCI Frames: Is digital media a threat to print?

By Devina Joshi , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Media | February 20, 2009
At the FICCI Frames '09, Bhaskar Das, Rajiv Jaitly and Suprio Guha Thakurta discussed whether the growing power of digital media is a threat to print media

According to some print experts, India is probably among the largest newspaper markets in the world. In 2007, Indians subscribed to 99 million copies daily. "India is a big newspaper market, not necessarily because we produce the best newspapers in the world, but because we produce the most," said Sevanti Ninan, columnist and author, while moderating a session at the FICCI Frames on 'Print: Emerging Successful from the Digital Storm'.

The speakers present were Bhaskar Das, executive president, Bennett Coleman & Co Ltd (BCCL); Rajiv Jaitly, president, ad sales and marketing, Dainik Bhaskar Group; and Suprio Guha Thakurta, managing director, The Economist India.

& #BANNER1 & #Das took the dais first, with a quip, "People say print isn't sexy enough. I agree...all the good looking people are in television, radio and digital."

In a sense, Das disagreed with the topic itself, saying that the so-called digital storm isn't really a storm yet. Internet penetration in India stands at 16 per cent, compared to 70 per cent in the advanced economies. So, it would be fair to deduce that in India, the digitisation era is yet to arrive in its full severity.

"Print still rules here," Das said, as about 228 million people consume some form of print media daily, out of which 28 million read English publications.

He went on to elaborate that there are three Indias in the country: the underdeveloped one, the developing or emerging one and the developed one. As expected, newspaper readership in underdeveloped India is still to catch up with the national average. Furthermore, there is low Internet penetration in developing and underdeveloped India.

Factors such as global economic decline and inflation, the increased cost of capital and investors shying away from risk has limited funding options in the print industry. As a result, there has been a surge in newsprint and operating costs; moreover, shrinking media budgets from key print advertisers such as real estate, banking, IPOs and automobiles, has led to a strain on revenues. Annual deals have made way for short-term ones. "Apart from impacting cost structures, the revenue shift effectively implies adoption of more focused, interactive and measurable media alternatives," Das said.

The new emerging consumer, according to Bhaskar Das, is a 'Vitamin I' consumer, where the 'I' stands for Individualistic, Involved, Independent and Informed. This has led to an overly competitive environment, where the ATMisation of media (anywhere, anytime media) has taken place. "Broadcast is out, anycast is in," Das stated. In this age of multiple touch points, Das said, life has never been more difficult, and paradoxically, it has never been simpler.

He added that print has to move on from the role of being the content disseminator to the content enabler. While dissemination happens through other media such as TV or the Internet, print needs to take the story further by giving more analysis.

Further, the approach to advertising needs to move from space selling to solution selling. "Let's look at life beyond ABC and readership surveys," Das asserted.

Taking over from him was Rajiv Jaitly who began with some facts: the agricultural sector contributes to 3 per cent of the overall 7 per cent GDP growth in India. "However, this agricultural market is untouched by the digital revolution," Jaitly said. "The consumer in the heartland of India still looks up to print."

Jaitly admitted that as regional media, "We haven't really leveraged the digitisation wave too much." Having said that, he added that as digitisation fully sets in, print will have no choice but to either tag along or pull digitisation along. Either way, print cannot ignore the signs of the digital times, as greater education and Internet penetration set in.

"In fact, the digital storm will show the way for other media in such tough times," Jaitly concluded.

Suprio Guha Thakurta of The Economist, made a similar point when he said that India is underpenetrated by digital media. "I get SMS alerts from news sites, and I'm wondering how The Times of India will analyse and present the news to me tomorrow," Thakurta said.

"That's print's role today: to make a known story more interesting," he added. Therefore, reiterating Das' point, Thakurta said that print has to concentrate on the 'Whys' and 'Hows' rather than the 'Whats'.

Taking a leaf out of The Economist, Thakurta said that the magazine has its entire print version ready to be consumed online, and yet 30 per cent of its magazine subscribers come from the website. "This is because, in our branding, we push people to find out more on our website," Thakurta said. And the combination has worked well for the brand, he added.

"I don't know what storm we're talking of, because these are all positive digital developments," Thakurta concluded. "We'll be fine, as long as we don't think we are in the print business - rather, we see ourselves in the news business."