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In the world of off-line media in India, non-English media dominate English media and the penetration of language media is more than four times the penetration of English media (Indian Readership survey 2000).
However, only 11.5 per cent of the estimated 8 million net users in India are aware of language sites. The current penetration of language Internet services? About 9.5 per cent.
In other words, there are just about 5.22 lakh users of language services in India.
Good news - at least for those looking to crack the market for language Internet services.
This is the highlight of 'NetBhasha', the latest report on Internet usage put together by netsenseindia, a research and consulting initiative devoted to the Internet, promoted by Pune-based Renaissance Management Consultants.
Since September 2000, when netsenseindia.com went online, the research outfit has released three research reports : NetSense, a study of the usage and attitude of the Internet user in India; NetWorth, a study of online financial services in India; and NetBhasha, which has tried to get a fix on the current state and potential of language Internet services in India.
The findings of NetBhasha give some interesting pointers towards the potential of language services in the country. Says Ranjan Banerjee, the prime mover of netsense, and the promoter of Renaissance Management Consultants, "Our projections are that there will be 26.4 lakh users of language Internet services in India by March 2002. The potential is very high because our survey reveals that 58.5 per cent of current Internet users read language press offline and, hence, with a projected net user base of 150 lakh in March 2002 (NASSCOM), the potential for language services in terms of potential users is as high as 87 lakh." The NetBhasha report identifies Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, the Hindi belt and upcountry Maharashtra as priority language markets.
Banerjee lists four key factors that are holding back the growth of language Internet services in India currently.
(a) Awareness - Only 11.5 per cent of net users who do not visit language sites are aware of language sites.
These services are yet to be significantly promoted.
(b) Ease of use - Language users have typically visited English sites before they first visit a language site and they seem to be unhappy with the usage experience on language sites. About 51 per cent of language users cite difficulty in downloading fonts as a major problem.
(c) Quality of content - Users feel that a lot of language content on the web, particularly with regard to language content provided by horizontals is translated (and not very well at that), and lacks the flavour of the language. Online newspapers like esakal, malayalamanorama are rated much higher than rediff or sify on content parameters because these newspapers create content in the same language.
(d) Choice - While there are very few language sites, most of them have invested very little in mass media awareness and brand building.
However, an interesting trend in the growth of Internet usage is that as the Internet spreads across countries, the dominance of English, as the language of use, tends to decline. Global Reach has estimated that 43 per cent of Internet users visit websites with content in languages other than English. Spain, Japan, Germany, France, China are among the leaders in this area.
While the situation in India is no different, language Internet services have already begun to make their presence felt. netsense estimates that of the current 5.22 lakh Internet users in India who access language services, 2.5 lakh users spend in excess of 40 minutes per week on language services.
The average language user is 25 years of age, belonging to SEC A. He / she would have been a net user for more than a year, and would accesses the net from a cyber café, and is typically a reader of non-English press vehicles.
Moreover, it seems, 52 per cent of Internet non-users surveyed by netsense indicated that the presence of language content would encourage them to use the Internet.
So what is the take out from all this?
NetBhasha concludes that language Internet services, taken to their full potential, can catalyse the growth and penetration of the Internet in India. Says Banerjee, "I think one critical aspect is to emphasise on usability. The language service providers could use focussed viral marketing to build brands without excessive ad spends.
Also, they should look at multiple revenue streams as pure advertising-based models may not be viable for the next three years or so. The critical learning is that old-fashioned conventional business thinking has a definite place in the web world."
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