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Guest Column: What is ailing print in India? Jwalant Swaroop, Happyho.in

09-January-2018
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Guest Column: What is ailing print in India? Jwalant Swaroop, Happyho.in

I have invested more than 30 years of my prime years in selling print and building newspaper brands. I can surely look back and analyse the reasons for de-growth in print especially in the aftermath of demonetization and GST.

Most print companies have shown de-growth in revenues. Some have missed the projections way off, making the newspaper and magazine owners jittery.

I am a perpetual optimist and while narrating this, I feel pain in my heart for what print is going through today. But let me confess that this trend has not surprised me.

The downturn has nothing to do with the medium. The medium is a victim of its own people’s thinking paralysis. Threat from digital, was and is real, but print captains remained in denial mode and eventually, the realty hit them hard in the face. The industry failed to bring a strategy note to deal with the digital threat and equip the teams to fight the war, which appeared to be distant but was eminently close.

There was no effort made by the leaders to deal with it and they waited for the worst to happen. Where is the pro-active leadership in Print?

I recall the industry fought a fierce battle when television made inroads in the media landscape in India. There was a strategic effort at the industry level to build readerships in regional and language space. The urge to co-exist with television as a competition actually helped print to grow faster than its usual pace. The people who led this warfare were people who rose in cadre in print as a medium. To some extent the industry’s experiment to bring people from other industries does not allow the domain knowledge to flourish and create leaders with exceptional ability to drive the industry.

Therefore when it came to fight digital, the print showed a weak leadership resolve.

I also wonder where the young heroes of print at key levels to drive it and course correct it are when print is passing through the most challenging phase of its survival?

The medium has the biggest problem of ageing leadership and therefore has completely lost balance. The new breed of marketers and media planners connect more with young mediums such as digital and television. Because the mediums exhume freshness and young energy.

When an industry reaches its maturity and fails to innovate it is bound to face the disruption naturally. Digital has been a huge disruption for the entire media landscape. Television is equally touched with its impact and the industry seems to be taking some drastic steps in getting young leadership in place to fight the mighty impacts of Hotstar, Voot, Netflix and YouTube and several others of its kind.

The captains in print failed to nurture young leadership completely due to their own fear and insecurity of losing their so-called fiefdoms. The result is evident now that a young planner or brand manager has a very different way of engagement. The old methods don’t work anymore and print has to take some immediate and urgent steps to revitalize itself before it’s too late to reverse the trend.

Language readership in print is also eroding. Several language news C & S channels, more language content availability on internet than it was five years ago and mobile penetration have already altered the news consumption, which has impacted language readership of newspapers and magazines. But print is still trying to drive sales on conservative models of past with least focus on innovating new engagement metrics.

Digital is overtly measured medium with enormous ease of targeting through analytics. Print is the least measured medium in today’s context. Though the new IRS is likely to come soon, many agency friends have no hope of improvement, pertinently remembering the reasons of its discontinuation. Print paid a huge price for its discontinuation. Both spend and yield in the medium dropped drastically and it lost to digital big time. On another end, BARC launched much more realistic measurement tool, which helped television to increase its share of ad-spends at better yields.

Today print needs to demonstrate qualitative page wise engagement, enabling them to build assets that can bring premiumness to the medium. Sensing its need, 15 years ago, I proposed the Readers’ Rating Point to the industry which would have helped to deliver relevance in today’s context of buying, but industry leaders gave a lukewarm response to it. In times of technology, print should learn to leverage it for measurement and engage some thought leaders to go beyond usual readership surveys to make their point loud and clear.

The print needs young leaders in industry bodies who can build a road map for the industry to create young products that engage with young and new audiences. In the times of VR and AI, how much does Print has to change itself and evolve to new realties, is a question captains of the industry have to answer.

Jwalant Swaroop is the CEO of Happyho.in and former CEO of Sakal Media Group and Lokmat.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not in any way represent the views of exchange4media.com.

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