Future of print

Recently Indian newspapers met at a conference in Pune to discuss what lies ahead for them. As expected the two-day conference organised by Wan-Ifra was dominated by the growth of the online media in the country.

Media ranks top among the industries disrupted by the internet. Stripped of their circulation and revenue, the US newspapers were decimated in less than a decade. But Indian newspapers feel a bit shielded against such disruption. The country’s population is growing, in principle expanding their reader base. The country is also poor, it will take lot more time for internet to reach everyone.

The US newspapers were complacent till the internet got them. Classifieds are a major source of revenue for newspapers. It took the US newspapers all of just two years to lose classified revenue thanks web sites like Craiglist. It will be alarmist to say that newspapers worldwide will go the US way. Even in the West there are many countries like Germany where the newspaper circulation is growing despite the challenging rise of internet.

There are signs in India, which suggest that internet will make an impact on the media business. The circulation especially of English newspapers is stagnating, with the younger readers in cities showing some reluctance to buy them, said the executive editor of the Malayala Manorama group. In contrast, the traffic for newspaper web sites is growing at 30 to 40% a year.

Newspaper habits are changing. People, who hold nine-to-five jobs, may be the majority of newspaper readers, do not have the time to read newspapers in the morning, said the CEO of the Hindu. When people reach their office they start their work-day by first visiting their favourite newspaper sites to catch up with the news. When they leave office in the evening they do the same. The traffic for www.deccanherald.com shoots up in these hours.

The Mint editor said the shifting reader habit would have no immediate impact on circulation as newspapers are practically given away for free. People continue to buy newspapers as a matter of habit, but it may be more convenient for them to get their news online. The spread of smartphones and tablets will further accelerate the trend.

The advertising industry has been a bit slow to wake up to the trend. Print has a reach of 189 million readers in the country. Internet has 96 million readers. Forty per cent of the advertisement-spend is on print, while Internet gets only 5 to 7%. Explaining the glaring discrepancy, a Madison senior executive said internet is followed by just the college crowd and not attractive to all advertisers.

As internet takes root in a country, older crowd logs in. This universal trend is playing out in India as well. The big question: What will happen in the next five years, when the internet gets a reach and readership similar to print newspapers? The Mint editor said he did not know the answer.

DHNS

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