The Indian Newspaper Congress 2009 wrapped up with a high-powered CEO Panel on ‘Reinventing the Newspaper’ and what was the way forward. The main take-off from the session was that perhaps it was not the newspaper that needed reinvention, but news did. The day-long Congress was held in the Capital on July 10 in collaboration with Indian Newspaper Society and the exchange4media Group.
Global and Indian newspaper industries is today characterised by the proliferation of traditional and non-traditional competition, escalating newsprint and HR costs, dwindling prices, static or declining readership, declining ad and subscription revenues and decreasing management focus as media organisations extend and expansion to other non-print media (for example, TV, Web, radio, OOH, etc.). These points were taken up for discussion by the panel.
The power-packed session was moderated by Rahul Sen, founder of Alchemy India. The distinguished panel members included Tariq Ansari, MD, Mid-Day Multimedia; Vinay Chhajlani, Promoter & CEO, NaiDunia; Rajiv Verma, CEO, HT Media Ltd; Didier Brun, CEO, Khaleej Times – Dubai; Sanjay Gupta, Editor & CEO, Jagran Group; and TN Ninan, Publisher & Editor, Business Standard.
Sen started the discussion with some questions, “There are several products that are undergoing reinvention in the current times, so why not the newspaper? However, the question is whether it is the right time to reinvent or reengineer the newspaper product, say within in the next three years or so. Not changing is no longer an option.”
To this, Ansari responded, “We have to stop looking at newspapers as deadwood, but as news medium per se. Newspaper as a product means reliable news that consumers can depend on. But in today’s times, more than need for information, there is need for navigable information in news that is increasing. Newspaper need not be the physical paper, it can be content deliverable in any kind of media platform.”
Speaking about Hindustan Times’ makeover, Verma said, “We are reinventing after 19 years. HT is a company with nine decades of heritage, it is difficult to say what are the things that one can change and what are the things that one wants to retain. However, not undergoing a change is certain death. The objective from these various change exercises that we have undertaken is to increase the stickiness of our readers, as a product like HT caters to a wide range of readers. We have to see how our offering makes sense to the 17-70 year olds. We have made several changes to the newspaper, but one thing that would never change is good old journalism.”
Sen said here, “Notwithstanding various readership surveys, each of you personally believes that the potential readership of newspapers is largely untapped as the literate middleclass grows, the youth market expands, the hunger for news and info increases… and yet readership does not keep pace with all this growth that India is so famous for. In fact, in various interviews over the years, each of you have suggested the biggest challenge for the industry and individual players is to build readership (as opposed to circulation).”
Sen then turned to Sanjay Gupta and said, “In the past, you have said that building readership in new markets has been DJ’s primary challenge…”
To this Gupta responded, “We have been successful in all the markets that we have entered with our formulae of editorial content. We tweak the language and the way in which it is written in the specific regions to suit the requirement of that particular region. The only thing that you can change, reinvent and renew to bring in more audiences and stay relevant is content.”
On being asked whether he would go by premium newspaper or free newspapers, Didier Brun replied, “I would go for premium newspapers because free newspapers are failing everywhere. For instance, Metro. In our business, it is mostly about content and brand equity, and hence there is need to put good value on content. Let’s not be obsessed with print – it doesn’t matter in what form news is accessed as long as people access that content.”
Speaking on which was better – family-run business or a business run by professionals, Vinay Chhajlani said, “It doesn’t matter whether it is family run business or a business run by professionals, what matters is how professional the family members are… We cannot get readership numbers on newer media like the web right now, but in newspapers, there is readership data available, and we are following it right now.”
Sen then asked TN Ninan, “When ad dollars are shrinking, can a standalone niche newspaper dispense with ad revenues and focus only on subscription revenues?”
To this, Ninan quipped, “Profit should be more than revenues and the Times Group started this about 20 years back with its pricing policies that raised barriers to entry and squeezed the smaller players down the road. However, that has not stopped competition. For instance, DNA invested Rs 800 crore to launch in Mumbai and has reached the No. 2 position in a very short span of time. The dynamics are changing and there is more competition for the advertising dollar.
The event partner was Encompass.