The first ever Indian Newspaper Congress, a joint initiative between Indian Newspaper Society and the exchange4media Group, saw a full house attendance from various stakeholders of the Indian print industry. Fun & Joy’s R L Bhatia was the host for the afternoon sessions on the day. The Congress ended with a high-powered session that saw CEOs of various organisations get together to discuss the threats and opportunities that newspapers face in a day and age when consumers would dictate what the editorial and the final product should be. The Session Chair was Pradeep Guha, CEO, Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd.
Three things that stood out in the session that aimed to predict trends in the newspaper environment were the focus on content than on “newspaper or news business”; the age of customisation, where the consumer may not be looking at just one brand for the news content that he needs but may be pooling content from different publications to create his own newspaper; and finally, the need for print to get its act right to identify the opportunities that the digital media offers, and capitalise on it now to truly move into the age of convergence.
Session Chair Guha was clear that e-papers or Internet offshoots that did not connect with the print version of the product were not steps towards the age of convergence. Before moving to the discussion, Guha took the audience through some points that he saw as threats, which if addressed in time, could convert into opportunities. He reminded the audience that newspapers had reinvented themselves two decades back when television was still a new medium and fast becoming a way of life. Newspapers then had embraced some of the core values of television and “yet remained true to their value”. Some of the steps that newspapers had taken at that time included going colour, adding the entertainment quotient and bringing in more infotainment.
The medium of tomorrow, according to Guha, was the Internet as it was able to tap on to some innate human needs. He added, “It would serve as well to identify the core value proposition of the Internet and get them in now. By definition, a convergence is when multiple products come together. The Internet and mobile today are convergence products.”
Guha further said that newspapers today had not moved in that direction and one reason for that could be that newspaper organisations’ feared losing their identity. Internet as a medium had recognised the core values of consumers and advertisers – whether it was in the form of fulfilling the integrated chain of consumer needs, and addressing the “consumer as a whole than some of its parts”, or in the form of catering to the integrated chain of advertiser needs, and being present in every step where the advertiser could communicate with his audience, and hence be delivered ‘purchase’.
Guha also brought in the measurement angle stating that as advertising costs went up, its effectiveness would be questioned, and that print media, too, should take the lead to invest time, money and energy to get more real-time data.
Digitally yours, but true convergence - not just yet
The panel comprised Rajiv Verma, CEO, Hindustan Times; Sarmad Ali, MD, Jung Group; Ashish Bagga, CEO, India Today Group; Ravi Dhariwal, President, Bennett, Coleman and Company Ltd; KU Rao, CEO, DNA; and Sanjay Gupta, CEO, Dainik Jagran.
The members on the panel did not completely agree with Guha on the need for action towards convergence and moving beyond e-papers. Perhaps the only one who agreed was Ashish Bagga. He explained that just as responsible people would make the necessary investments even for their grandchildren, responsible brand custodians and CEOs should take the right steps for their brands in context to a decade down the line. The time had come to truly embrace the internet age and making it an intrinsic part of a newspaper’s business model.
Presenting another set of views, Sanjay Gupta said, “The Internet is a challenge, but where does it get its content from? The Internet is just a medium like print and TV. As publishers, we need to see ourselves as content generators. Newspapers, by nature of the medium, cannot be an effective social networking tool. However, as companies, we can have different platforms that help people socially connect. Pizzas were not known in India a few years back, but they didn’t take over ‘daal roti’.” He added that today, there was information overload on the Internet, and readers looked to newspapers to take out the relevant content and deliver it to them.
Rajiv Verma compared India to the western markets and said that while they saw decline as a problem, it appeared that they were talking themselves into it. However, India was different. The total readership in the country was still on the rise, and sheer numbers showed that the potential for the newspaper business was still huge in India. “It stands true for the international level, too, otherwise why would Rupert Murdoch pay double the price to buy a Wall Street Journal? We are at a 10-year old start up for a 150-year old business.”
Ravi Dhariwal made no pretence of the fact that he was very bullish on the newspaper industry. “The newspaper decline is in the US and parts of Western Europe, and it is self-inflicted. They have worked in monopolies, looked for profits where there were none and haven’t worked in very conducive environments. Newspapers fit very nicely in the trends that we see today, and have a robust, bullish future.” Commenting on the changes in India, Dhariwal said that were consumers were increasingly spending more time on media, and newspapers would be smart enough to embrace the Internet in the right way. He spoke of the changing business models and added that he did not see too many barriers in the way of newspapers.
Bringing in views from across the border, Pakistan’s Sarmad Ali said that the biggest threat was in the mindset. Speaking on the need to redefine boundaries, Ali said, “There is no such thing as newspaper business or news business, we are in the media business. Six years ago, Jung branched out into TV and radio, and today, 45 per cent of our revenues are coming from TV. If you look at media consumption habits, 34 per cent of Pakistan’s ad expenditure is with us. The challenge and the opportunity is to keep that with portion with the Group, and that can be done by different mediums. But we have to ensure that consumers are consuming our brands.” Jung Publications was launched in Delhi in 1939 and then moved to Pakistan in 1947.
KU Rao stressed that India had to change culturally first, if the culture of the newspaper had to change. “India is such a young country, and the whole business is going to expand manifold. A Rs 3,000-crore company is not a huge company. The India of the future would see Rs 30,000 crore to Rs 50,000 crore companies. We are going to see a large cost base emerge that would fund this growth,” Rao said, adding, newspapers were still a great entertainment and information tool, and this would be the case for some time to come.
Ashish Bagga reminded the audience that nearly 30 per cent of the news in the metro market was consuming news on the digital medium, and that now was the time to sow the seeds to take the newspaper industry to its next level. “True, we are seeing growth in the industry, but it is a lesser percentage every year. We are increasing at a decreasing rate of growth and that is alarming. We have to wake up to the fact that the time to take new steps to ensure better return on investments and continue enjoying our audience’s trust is now.”
Bagga also spoke on growth from advertising revenues and that when the picture was seen in context to yields, growing at a given percentage was a challenge. He compared the picture to the new mediums, where the input cost was far lower. If the new age media model could be cracked, it would open a huge opportunity for the industry. He added that print wasn’t as dynamic as the newer mediums.
Newspaper business or content -- what is the core competence
Everyone in the panel was clear that content was the core competence of the newspaper industry. The big question then was that if content was what matters, then shouldn’t the consumer be choosing when and what he wants? Sanjay Gupta said that newspapers were content custodians, and to give the consumer the choice of when and what, a newspaper had to be simultaneously present on the Internet as well.
Ravi Dhariwal explained here that the question was not newspaper versus the Internet. “Newspapers would continue to be a vibrant media. There is a unique opportunity for people who look at other mediums to be able to package one’s offering for the consumer on the Internet. But that adds to the newspapers business, and not takes away from that,” he said.
Rajiv Verma spoke on the need to focus on future profit pools, as the reason why these businesses existed was to create shareholder value. “You have to deploy your resources in a pragmatic way, directionally, if you are in the newspaper organisation,” he said.
The move was towards branded content, Bagga said, adding, “As a consumer, I don’t have to go to one place for one thing. I can take some section from somewhere and create my own page – ‘my newspaper’ – depending on what suits me the best, fits in my time, and I trust, that is the way it would go in the future.”
The panel discussed further on the high-end consumers, who were the first ones to adopt new habits, and the most important ones for the advertisers. They also discussed on the competitive scenario in India. The concern there was that if the game continued to be about people with deep pockets doing well, would India move in the footsteps of markets like the US, where four large media houses controlled the entire market.