Future of news: Print down, digital up.

Inside the newly built office of one of the oldest newspapers in town, is a Typewriter- kept on a pedestal. Above it, a few lines have been framed in glass.

It reads:

Behold a Typewriter. This little machine- mechanical, electrical, portable- was a mainstay of human civilisation up until the 2nd half of the 20th century. On it was writ great literature, great journalism- and much trash.
A lifeline once, a museum piece today…the destiny that awaits many who fancy themselves as stars?

These words, said to be the handiwork of veteran journalist T J S George, need to be reread, in a new context. The fate of the typewriter awaits venerable newspapers, if they fail to reinvent themselves, find new ways of monetizing existing readership, and reaching out to a newer set of consumers. According to the latest Indian Readership Survey (pdf), in the second quarter of 2012, print media grew only .9 % cagr while digital media grew 34.8 %. Readership of print media declined .03 % over the previous quarter while digital readership grew 6.16 % quarter on quarter. Compared to the same quarter last year, print registered a measly 1.2 % growth while digital grew 28.89 %. Of the top 10 daily newspapers in India, five showed a year on year decline in readership while seven lost readership when compared to the previous quarter. Six of the top English dailies lost readership in the quarter.

All this does not mean that print is already dead. In fact, its not even close to death. Because the growth of digital readership is on a smaller base and print has a much larger base the growth percentages might appear big or small. But clearly, the numbers tell the story of one medium growing rapidly and the other stagnating. Even though newspapers continue to run chest thumping, grandstanding page one announcements after each round of the survey, the writing, is literally on the wall.

Changing consumer

The shift towards digital consumption is a clearly established trend in the west where many newspapers have shut shop. A similar trend is underway in India, a country with over 900 mn mobile subscribers. With low cost tablets and entry level smartphones beginning to penetrate even second and third tier cities, the trend is accelerating. This must be particularly worrying to the English dailies and magazines as their readers are the ones most likely to take to the English dominated Internet. At the same time, language dailies do not have much to worry about as content in local languages are yet to go mainstream on the Indian Internet. Another survey, published recently says that nearly 40 % of the mobile internet users in India have already ditched newspapers to consume content on smartphone. English print is seeing the biggest impact, said the report.

Losing faith in big media

In an earlier post, we asked if Sam Pitroda’s recent press conference on Twitter had anything to do with the urge to sidestep traditional media. Similar instances have been on the rise. At least five Chief Ministers from India’s largest states are on Twitter and Facebook. Opposition leader L K Advani, has been blogging for a while. Narendra Modi- Gujarat’s Chief Minister, has been tweeting and hanging out with tens of thousands of people on Google+. Sushma Swaraj, the leader of opposition has been active on Twitter. Jammu & Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, the Prime Minister’s office, cabinet minister Kapil Sibal, Shashi Tharoor and many political heavyweights are using social networks to reach out to their electorate. C-suite executives are yet to take to the medium in a big way but their companies have been leveraging the Internet and social media.

Big media, dominated by newspapers and television channels, tainted by recent scandals, has been losing its appeal as the fourth pillar of democracy. It has become routine to critique big media for their conflicting interests and uncomfortably close relationships with business houses and political parties.

Newspapers are reinventing, but…

Newspapers, in their own ways, are gearing up to take on the online world. Recently, India’s second largest business newspaper, Mint, adopted an online first policy. Stories of importance and urgency go online first and then make their appearance on print. Not too far behind, The Economic Times which already has a massive online presence has also been flexing its muscles, trying to integrate its editorial with its web team. Business standard has begun asking reporters to do “web duty.” The Times of India has included web stories in the KRA of reporters and others have also been taking baby steps. However, print publications have huge costs to meet in terms of the real estate, production costs and redundancies in the newsroom. Moreover, asking reporters to work for the web as well, is almost always a very unpopular move at newspapers. Websites run by traditional media houses are also gaining from the shift. Most of India’s top news websites are run by media houses that largely depend on their newsprint revenues.

Digital advertising on the rise

According to a report (pdf) , online advertising in India is currently at about $ 410 mn and is about 7 % of the total advertising spend. It is expected to reach $ 1.5 bn by 2015.Mobile advertising was at $ 56.5 mn in 2011 and is forecast to reach $ 247 mn by 2015. A small amount when read next to the $ 10 bn advertising Industry in India.

In India, where Internet penetration is low, traditional media still gets the lion’s share of the marketing budget. However, this only underlines that there is much room for growth in digital. Brands that want to appeal to a younger demographic are starting to see that targeted digital advertisements are more cost effective and are easier to measure.

The country is estimated to have over 220 mn internet users by 2015. The Indian government has also announced plans to increase the number of broadband connections to 175 mn by 2015 and 600 mn by 2020. It is only logical, that brands will follow their customers, wherever they are.

1 comment

  • Even though the physical readership and subscribers are reducing, a wide impact can be made only through print media, as it is one of the sources of mass communication that is spread far and wide, where technology has not been able to reach yet.

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