The topic of the first session at The Future of News 2011, a seminar organised by afaqs! in New Delhi on August 4, focussed on what print needs to do to protect its future growth.
The panellists for the session included Mallikarjunadas C R, chief executive officer, Starcom MediaVest Group; N P Sathyamurthy, CEO, Karishma Initiative; Amit Shukla, CEO, Deccan Chronicle Holdings; Ashok Das, managing director, Hansa Research India; and Rahul Kansal, chief marketing officer, Bennett, Coleman & Co. The session was moderated by Shantanu Bhanja, vice-president, marketing, Hindustan Times Media.
He opened the discussion by asking the panel what the print medium needs to do to maintain growth in the future.
According to him, one of the key reasons why print is still enjoying the 'high' is because of its cover price, which is still lower than any other country of the world. "Even in our neighbouring country, Pakistan, a newspaper is priced at INR 12-15, compared to INR 2-4 in India." Moreover, he said, "We are blessed with a direct distribution system, where 98 per cent is home delivered, which is the other way round in the western countries."
Elaborating on the topic, he said that unlike in the West, where it is considered that only the older generation read newspapers, in India, we have a lot of young adults who are passionate readers.
Mallikarjunadas said, "Circulation-wise, the last three years have been pretty good for India. If you take developed countries like Europe and North America into consideration, it has fallen considerably and in developing countries like Asia and South America, circulation has risen."
He added that given the way internet penetration has increased, the future of news will flourish by taking internet as a part of it. He said, "Thanks to the high-end smartphones which changed the mindset of the readers, now they are willing to pay for the content as smartphone users subscribe to various contents which require monetary transactions. Hence, to preserve this form of media, we need to find out means to monetise news on the web."
Shukla spoke about why there is a need to preserve the essence, or protect some distinctive features of a brand or its content, in order to differentiate itself from the others. He said that readers get addicted to or habituated with a particular feature of a product.
He said, "Sometimes change is a threat, but for the fear of being dumped, we should not stop bringing about change."
He also spoke about the decreasing attention span of the readers, which poses a challenge to the print industry. Another major challenge, particularly in the metros, is the monopoly of one or two brands. Most importantly, holding on to the pulse of the younger generation is the driving factor to grow the industry.
Das of Hansa Research India said, "According to a recent PwC report, print is still a growing medium and the literacy level, especially among the females, has increased sharply in the last 10 years. It is to be noted that the time spent on print has decreased, but time spent to get news has increased in other media such as television and internet."
He added that a large part of the business is still growing in this "robust" industry because of the dailies. He revealed, "The number of people sharing newspapers has gone down considerably, and so has the time spent on particular sections of newspapers, except some. The sections which keep the newspapers going are need-based ones such as education, matrimony and employment. Even actionable news continues to play an important role.
"But above all, to keep this industry thriving, the young audience, who are the early adopters of newspapers, must be managed well."
Sathyamurthy of Karishma Initiative said, "Print as a medium has no insurance, but I feel publishers need insurance to keep it going. The medium has declined by 4 per cent. What will keep this industry going is local advertising and not national ones."
He added, "The prices of ads in print are like those of real estate ones, not based on content. I feel publishers are not doing enough to capitalise on the medium."
Kansal commented that a lot of players foraying into the print medium are a testimony to the fact that this industry is doing well.
Sathyamurthy added, "Print delivers more value than any other medium and this era is an era of collaboration, not competition. The price of a newspaper is too dependent on advertisements."
Mallikarjunadas cautioned that journalists need to be curators of news in this democratic world and not make newspapers self-propagatory, but contradictory, and more news-worthy.
Sathyamurthy concluded the session by saying that while earlier, the average time spent on newspapers was four-five days a week, now it is about three to four-and-a-half days. In an era when readers are shrinking, he stressed on the need to keep the industry going.
The event was sponsored by STAR News and IBN Live.