The subscribers of India's first online newspaper, thenewspapertoday.com of India Today Group, were in for a surprise yesterday as they logged on to the site. A pop-up announced that the site is making an exit from November 1 onwards citing unviable business conditions.
Speaking to exchange4media.com, Kalli Purie of India today Group Online said, "TNT is not closing down. Instead it is getting merged with the group's mother site, the online version of India Today." On the reasons behind the merger, Purie added, "The Internet infrastructure in India has not developed as per our expectations. Inspite of scoring high on the content parameter by the consumers, we felt that the delivery of the content was affected greatly due to infrastructure related problems like connectivity which are not in our hands." TNT, a paid subscription based news site, was launched with great fanfare on 1st January 2001 in a bold move when Internet stand alones were falling like nine pins all around.
The TNT merger decision is in line with India Today Group's strategy of either closing down or taking a quick remedial action if any of their plans go awry. The Group had closed down the Teens Today magazine some time back on similar grounds. Whereas its TV Today division's flagging fortunes were changed with the successful launch of Aaj Tak channel, one of the most successful media launches in India.
The 10,000 TNT subscribers have been given the option to either claim their unused subscription value or opt for access to the online versions of either India Today or Business Today magazines. The TNT example also underlines the fact that the market is still like a bumpy ride for the paid online content providers in India though Purie refused to acknowledge that paid subscription model was an issue with TNT.
Globally also the scene is no different. Jupiter Media Metrix, the global leader in Internet and new technology analysis and measurement, had reported earlier this year that 70% of online adults in a poll conducted revealed they couldn't understand why anyone would pay for content. According to Jupiter, revenues for general content will grow from $700 million in 2001to $2.3 billion in 2006. "While there is money to be made in the online content business, the indications are that the mass market still largely shuns anything that smells like a subscription online," claimed David Card, Jupiter vice president and senior analyst of Jupiter some time back. But he further added, "However, in the near term, media companies will create subscription services via packaging, exclusivity and added interactive features.