Ashwini Gangal

Can consumers be persuaded to pay for news?

A panel of experts discussed this at Digipub World.

The moderator of this session, Vanita Kohli-Khandekar, columnist and writer, Business Standard, began the discussion with this simple yet thought-provoking fact: Good quality journalism takes a lot of time, money and effort to produce. Yet 80 per cent of the revenues of Indian newspapers comes from advertising.

But advertising is not enough to cover the cost of creating good content. Can consumers be persuaded to pay, especially for a 'product' like news, something they're used to receiving for free?

Can consumers be persuaded to pay for news?

The panel
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Edited excerpts of what the experts on this panel said about this.

Shailesh Dobhal, digital editor, Business Standard

Can consumers be persuaded to pay for news?

Shailesh DobhalLast year, when we were debating whether to go pay or not, there were three-four things playing on our minds. Some said it would be a bold move, some said it would be a foolish move. 80 per cent of all internet traffic is being generated through the mobile. As any web publisher will tell you, it's very difficult to monetise mobile advertising page views. Advertisers are paying just about nothing for it - not even a fourth or fifth of what they pay for desktop audiences. In India, ad blocking on mobile is, surprisingly, second highest in the world.

What was happening, for legacy players like us, was - there was a weakening of print advertising. A lot of internet and mobile advertising was going to big platforms like Google and Facebook. Going pay was not an option; it was imperative. The question was - Can we charge consumers in a scenario where competition's offering is free? That's where, as a brand, you have to have the strength to say your content is differentiated. The common wisdom was - people will only pay if it impacts their bottomline. The surprising thing for us was - people are willing to pay for opinion.

Also, Google indexes paid sites in a manner which is very different from the way they index free sites; there's a penalty for being paid. As an organisation you have to be ready to take that trade-off.

Now, about 15 per cent of our content is behind a paywall - and it's a hard paywall. It's a soft paywall only on Twitter.

Rohin Dharmakumar, co-founder, The Ken

Can consumers be persuaded to pay for news?

Rohin DharmakumarAs journalists, (we think) success means reaching (more people and getting) more and more page views and circulation. We need to unlearn that. And it takes a while to unlearn this.

We need to ask ourselves a fundamental question - why is that (reach, page views) important? It's because it's directly connected to the advertising business model, where the more page views you have, the more advertisers pay you. The 'per ad' rate is crashing and the only way you can counter that is by pumping more and more page views. That has a perverse impact; you start writing articles that get you more page views - listicles, charticles, photos, trends... and before you know it, you've forgotten why you're writing articles.

Shivendra Gaur, founder, Rocket Post

Can consumers be persuaded to pay for news?

Shivendra GaurWe're here talking about how and why consumers don't want to pay for news. But even in a place like Pilibhit where, in general, the purchasing power is low, if people are willing to pay - we have around 20,000 subscribers - then we're mistaken when we say consumers don't want to pay for news. I think the possibility is high in larger cities, in places like Delhi.

We don't face the problem of getting revenue from advertisers. In the days ahead, we want to become a substitute for newspapers.

In print media, the news and the ads are on the same page. We don't have the feature of pop-up ads.

Initially, yes, people who received news on WhatsApp would call me to verify it. I told them if they subscribed, they wouldn't have to worry about receiving fake news.

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