A raging debate about the advent of the digital medium leading to a slow death of the print medium still rules industry gatherings. Those who foresee a gloomy future for print cite a host of reasons, including availability of free online content and the fate of the print media circulations in the West, which saw a steep fall after the advent of digital content. This was also the subject at the 7th South Asia Annual INMA Conference that was held in Delhi. The topic of the discussion was 'Why is Publishing Continuing to Thrive in South Asia?'
The session began with all the speakers citing reasons on why the print media will continue to survive.
Ravi Dhariwal, CEO, BCCL, said, "There are five reasons that will ensure the print media's survival in India for a long time. Firstly, there is a favourable environment facilitated with increasing literacy, growing incomes and good newspapers. Secondly, the newspaper is the best consumer value product created till date. The cost of it does not grow with inflation and in Rs 3-5 provides enough information to the user. Thirdly as an industry we have invested enough to create a newspaper habit among the people. Fourthly, it is an extremely competitive industry and lastly, the people working here are extremely innovative, which keeps the industry going."
DD Purkayastha, MD & CEO, ABP said that digital media penetration is lower in South Asia. Regional newspapers, he added, have a strong ability to customise, strong growth in advertising, people have huge faith in newspapers and the industry is innovative.
Jacob Mathew, executive editor, Malayala Manorama claimed that digital is no match for print in terms of coverage. The scope for innovation in advertising is much higher in print than on digital, he said, and broadband is still weak with less penetration. He added that print media provides constant interaction for people and has bureaus everywhere for content aggregation. While digital media is a faceless organization, print has the ability to be hyperlocal. Also, print enjoys far more credibility than the digital medium in terms of news and editorials.
He further added that no digital campaign has ever recorded success without the support of television or print, which together with other points indicates that print media will continue to survive in India.
Pawan Agarwal, non executive director, Dainik Bhaskar Group, said, "Print media is the greatest platform for the retail advertisers. It is cheaper than a cup of tea and is distributed nearly free of cost at homes every morning. People in India have enough time in the morning to refer to a newspaper, which is approximately 45 - 50 minutes, especially in the rural areas."
"In India the print media has also streamlined itself with the social character of the people. It has started classifieds, matrimonial ads, youth section, opportunities, education and medical issues that cater to different needs of different people. Also, we have had the advantage of learning from the western markets about price, advertising wars and other issues. We should take pride in what we deliver and it cannot be matched," he said.
Sanjay Gupta, president, INMA South Asia Division & CEO, Jagran began with reasons for the failure of print media in the developed countries. "The print media organizations in the west earned well and also survived during the television boom but they failed because they heavily invested in their newsrooms, did not manage operations and were not able to regionalise," offered Gupta.
With television and print media both going online, people in the West had the opportunity to consume content from wherever they wanted, but it created a confusion to which the print media lost the battle.
Gupta added that even if the people are reading newspapers online, they say they are reading newspapers. Print media in India enjoys much more credibility from people than news channels, which are yet to become household names.
Impact of broadband
Speaking on the impact of broadband on print in a decade or two, Gupta said that it is difficult to predict changes on the technology basis as of today. To this, Purkayastha added that broadband needs the print players; Agarwal predicted that both will coexist together.
Monetisation of the tablet
Speaking on the issue, Agarwal said that in digital, revenue is subscription. So, publishers would need more subscribers for it. Mathew added that the content will have to be delivered in the form that the user wishes and monetisation will have to follow successful models. Gupta expressed doubts that this will happen in the near future as India is not ready for it and people still believe that only physical products can be priced. Dhariwal said that even if it can be done, it should be done slowly. There should be no hurry because one first needs to ascertain if the user is ready for it.
Purkayastha brought out that women readership in India is less and there needs to be proactive steps taken towards it. Dhariwal stated that for this, one needs to understand women's requirements and then customize content accordingly. Gupta asserted that newsrooms are focused on politics and ignore women, while Agarwal opined that there needs to be more women journalists and relevant news should be fed to women.
Targeting young readers
Gupta believes that the youth, apart from those who have taken up a job or started business activities, does not take newspapers seriously and are thus not to be seen as readers. Both Dhariwal and Agarwal expressed resonance with Gupta's views and added that college going youngsters live in a different world and do not care about politics or global affairs. Purkayastha, however, said that if the right content is presented to the youth, they definitely will make good readers.