The old dog has enough in it to learn a few new tricks yet: Ravi Kiran

By Ravi Kiran , Starcom MediaVest Group, New Delhi | In Media Publishing | May 26, 2010
The medium that was the original beneficiary of a technological breakthrough will continue to adapt to changing consumer needs and behaviour

Last fortnight, I started subscribing to a daily newspaper on my newly acquired e-book reader. I spend double the money on the daily's electronic version compared to its paper counterpart and while I have not measured it with rigour, I feel I spend more than double the time in an average day, reading it as well.

There are two ways we can read this small nugget of the change in my personal behaviour. One, technology is about to kill the newspaper and the magazine and sooner or later everyone would be reading news and features off a screen, rather than the paper version. This is a popular view, at least among technologically savvy, new age, globally exposed intelligentsia. It is also quite fashionable to predict the eventual death of the print medium anyway, so this line of thinking has some currency. The other way of looking at the same behaviour is this-the medium that was the original beneficiary of a technological breakthrough (remember the printing press?) will continue to adapt to changing consumer needs and behaviour.

While it is easy to give the examples from other countries and paint a rather bleak picture for the future of print, I feel that we need to keep in mind the evolutionary backdrop to this powerful medium, when making a commentary on its future.

Many newspapers in India had their roots in our freedom struggle and therefore understand local communities and their challenges the way no other medium does. In a democracy that's really important. In fact, television news is thriving today because it is emulating that bottom-up approach that's so characteristic of newspapers. And radio wants to be able to do news really badly, not least because it will allow it to get that much closer to local communities. They say, the more global we become, the more local we become as well. This is one of the single biggest reasons, why the future of newspapers is strong.

When it comes to magazines, the writing has been on the wall for quite some time that features rather than news is their future, as news keeps getting more personal and instantaneous, enabled by rapid application of technology to delivery channels. This is the reason why special interest magazines will continue to do well, as long as they do not trap themselves into thinking that the biggest measure of success is how many copied you are printing. Technology, again, will come to their help, as it allows titles to run profitably with far lower print runs than possible in the past. This is where magazines need to and will take inspiration and lessons from the web, where scale has a different meaning from what we have been used to.

One thing I keep hearing print media owners talk about regularly is the fast that unlike in the Western markets, whose examples people take often, is the special developmental situation in India. A lot of newspaper and magazine readers in India do not buy their own copy. Reading is still a big virtue. Literacy is on rise, not just in quantity but also in quality. All this combined, will lead to more people buying, reading and reading more often, in future, all good things for the medium.

In sum, I am positive about the future of print, no doubt it.

That said, I feel print has to continue what it has been doing for the last several decades - adapt. To new technologies, new ways of creating and delivering content and new textures social change. Most importantly, print has to recognise without shame that the power over content has shifted, the attention challenge today's consumers have to deal with is real and multi tasking is not only a computing jargon any longer.

Those companies in print, which do this well, do not have to worry. Those who don't, no problem there either, we will just read about them in some e-book years later. Amen.

(The author is CEO, South Asia, and emerging market leader, specialist solutions, Starcom MediaVest Group)