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Newspaper publishers see e-paper as revenue driver of the future

08-August-2005
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Newspaper publishers see e-paper as revenue driver of the future

Have you got bored with carrying newspaper copies everyday in your office bag? But can’t do without it because you find the print edition more reader-friendly than the web edition on the Net? Welcome to the world of e-paper, which brings your newspaper copy to your desktop early in the morning.

Simply put, e-paper is just the soft copy of the print version of your morning newspaper as you see it. It sustains the delight of online reading even as it retains the flavour of a newspaper. And, at the same time, one can perform all the online activities as in browsing a site – search for a particular article, clip it, e-mail it or print it and do it all page after page.

Said Mahendra Swarup, CEO, Times Internet Ltd, “An e-paper gives you the look and feel of its print counterpart on the web platform, thus making it more reader-friendly.”

Most e-papers in India, barring Hindustan Times, have currently kept their editions free of charge, but it’s only for a limited period meant to make readers acquainted with the product. But is it a viable business proposition to make e-papers paid when the same articles are available free of cost online?

Yes, insisted S N Bhaduri, VP, e-business, Hindustan Times. “An e-paper is a different product on the Net catering to an altogether different consumer need. People, who are at a faraway place from their hometown and don’t have access to the local edition of their favourite newspaper, can have the look-and-feel of it, including the local advertisements, through an e-paper. And, most importantly, they are ready to pay for it.”

Then why, except Hindustan Times, has everybody kept it free? The Times of India, which launched its e-paper some one-and-a-half years back, is still providing it free to its Indiatimes e-mail account holders. Declining to give out the number of e-paper users, Swarup said, “Though we have definite plans to make our e-paper a pay product, we are first aiming to make our reach sizeable.”

Why are Indian newspapers so eager to launch e-papers when they are still struggling to find a market for it? Ankur Sharma, Manager, ExpressIndia.com, which is soon going to launch the e-paper of Indian Express, had a simple confession to make: “Everybody is following the trend and nobody wants to be seen lagging behind when it comes to catching up with new technology.”

Swarup had an interesting observation, “The cost of launching an e-paper is minimal so is the distribution cost. And when you launch an e-paper version, your newspaper becomes a global newspaper from day one.”

Other than the business angle, it is the digital archiving aspect that is encouraging newspapers to launch e-papers. “E-paper provides a unique opportunity to newspaper publishers to preserve their daily editions on a digital platform for future generations, who can see how a particular newspaper looked some 20 or 30 years back,” observed Chitra Raju, Online Head, ExpressIndia.com.

Everybody seems to be optimistic about the potential of e-papers, even though online media is struggling against low advertising revenue inflows compared to other media. Is it because e-papers are being seen as a saviour that will drive revenue generation in future? Absolutely, said Hindustan Times’ Bhaduri, “if you can differentiate your product from others, then it can yield the intended result.”

But Swarup is more cautious. “It will take some time for people to get acquainted with this format, but it definitely has the potential to generate handsome revenue,” he maintained.

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