Five years back, Rupert Murdoch spoke at the annual congregation of the American Society of Newspaper Editors asking print news folk to not just sit by and watch as an entire new generation of digital users turn away from the printed newspaper. “Today, the newspaper is just a paper. Tomorrow, it can be a destination,” he said, adding: “Success in the online world will, I think, beget greater success in the printed medium. By streamlining our operations and becoming more nimble. By changing the way we write and edit stories. By listening more intently to our readers.”
Murdoch has been waging a battle with Google in the recent past, saying it’s unfair for the search engine giant to crawl sites to pick up news without paying a penny. The traditional argument between the search engines and websites is that both drive traffic to one another, but when newspapers were bleeding profusely in the US, Google became the bad boy.
On Sunday (April 11) evening, it was Google CEO Eric Schmidt speaking at the annual convention of the American Society of Newspaper Editors in Washington, DC. I couldn’t access the text of his speech, though caught snatches of his address on YouTube. “We have a business model problem,” Schmidt said. “We don’t have a news problem.”
The man who is said to have led to the demise of many publications was all praise for the news media. “High quality journalism will triumph,” he said.
Declining to reveal any info on what the new methods of making monies would be, Schmidt said: “The web can ultimately be very good for news.” And added: “You have more readers than ever, you have more sources than ever, for sure you have more ways to report and new forms of money. New forms of making money will develop.”
Clearly, Schmidt understands that for Google to prosper, it will need to ensure that content producers don’t run out of money if people stay content with just reading headlines and don’t go to the site providing the news. He hopes newspapers will make money off online ads and an all-new subscription model. That’s already happening, and I guess, if Schmidt can accelerate the technology developments on this, we could see happier times for newspaper companies in the West.
What does all of this mean for India? Not much for now. We’ve seen a few companies develop robust strategies for the Web over the last two years, but we are still far from where even the UK is. Although the social media and microblogging platforms are growing, many content players are groping.
Murdoch’s estimation of people turning away from newspapers is already a reality in markets like the US. It will be some time before our consumers reject the printed form. However, fuelled by the huge growth in mobile phone usage and technology advancing, it’s wise to be ready so that one can forge ahead when the revolution hits us. There’s an opportunity for newer players to make a mark here as with the digital media generation, loyalties to big brands aren’t a major factor. Even solo acts on Twitter and blogs are picking up. Twitter platforms like Tweetdeck have become the preferred means for many to access news and communicate.
In fact, that’s where the challenge is for the stalwarts amongst the print companies. In the digital space, a content source’s existence for 50-plus years is not critical. What’s vital is how good you are now, and when your content can draw consumers in good numbers. The opportunities for Indian players are huge, and waiting to be tapped.