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Print vs. digital: Time to sound the alarm bells for print?

Print vs. digital: Time to sound the alarm bells for print?

Author | Abid Hasan | Monday, Apr 15,2013 9:22 PM

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Print vs. digital: Time to sound the alarm bells for print?

The Indian Readership Survey (IRS) 2012 Q4 data didn’t have much cheer for the print publications with most dailies and magazines registering decline in Average Issue Readership (AIR). The decline comes even as competition amongst print players becomes more cutthroat.

On the other hand, Registrar of Newspapers for India (RNI) has reported that the total number of registered publications in India stands at 86,754 as on March 31, 2012. As many as 4,545 new publications were registered with the RNI during 2011-12. What the does the future hold for these publications? While there has been not let up in the thirst for news and information, the question arises where are the readers going for their daily quota of news. Even as print shows decline, there are growing numbers for digital media. So, is digital finally beginning to eat into the print pie in a significant way?

Industry experts and various print players have differing opinion regarding digital’s foray. While most admit to digital making significant inroads into print media, there are some industry experts who believe digital’s foray is limited to certain age groups and some cities.

‘In the long run, technically digital will eat into print’s share’
Satyajit Sen, CEO, ZenithOptimedia remarked, “So much information is available today on digital and people turn to digital to get frequent updates, thus there is a huge opportunity to revalidate what you do. Digital is an inevitable reference point, which gives a lot of power in decision making in everyday life today.”

When asked whether digital is eating into print’s pie in recent times, he replied, “Consumers and consumer behaviour is changing, hence, I think it is inevitable that people will shift from print to digital in the long run and technically digital will eat into print’s share.”

According to a report by Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) in January this year on digital penetration, there are 951 million mobile users with 448 mobile data subscribers and 137 million internet users. Rural internet has grown by seven times in the last two years and will make India among one of the top three digital markets in the world. By 2020, riding on a government investment of $4 billion (roughly 10 billion on PPP terms), the number of internet users is expected to be 600 million; mobile will possibly penetrate 100 per cent of rural India, creating the largest free economy digital market in the world.

‘It will eat into the print pie, but not happening right now’
Meanwhile, on the other hand, Gyan Gupta, CEO, Dainik Bhaskar Digital feels that print and digital mediums have different roles to play. According to him, while one is habit and other fulfills the need to be updated throughout the day, and the expectation from these two platforms are totally different.

“There is not enough data on whether digital is eating into print’s pie because the readers I have interacted with have said that they look at both the mediums,” Gupta added.

When asked whether digital consumption is limited to certain age groups and cities, he replied, “Right now the audience is too small and it will be inconclusive to draw a conclusion out of that. We need a larger mass to draw a conclusion.”

Gupta feels that digital will eventually eat into print’s pie, but it is a gradual progression.

‘Print is not getting new readers’
Durga Raghunath, VP, Product and Executive News, Firstpost said that readers are going to mobile and websites. “The personal relationship that readers have had with newspapers has been replaced by smartphones and social media. It’s a battle for attention minutes as much as it is for media,” she added.

She further said that print is not getting new readers and that mobile and social are becoming substitutes for print news.

Raghunath suggested that in the scenario of declining readership, print players have to find a new grammar for their relationship with media consumers. They have to effectively translate their values and strengths to mean something online, rather than purely put their print pieces on the web.

As per the IAMAI survey, internet usage in India is still driven by the youth. Smaller towns have witnessed 41 per cent growth with active internet users coming from less than 5 lakh towns.There are 17 million internet users accessing the internet daily. Out of these, a third access the internet several times a day.

‘It’s eating into print’s pie among certain TG and in some cities’
According to Surbhy C Murthy, Associate VP, Allied Media, “Overall digital is not eating into print’s pie, but it is significant foray when it comes to a certain segment of the age group and certain cities. The reason for this is the new age group that is hooked to the internet and is tech savvy.”

On similar lines, Shekhar Avasthi, Media Director, Havas Media, India while agreeing that digital is eating into print’s pie, said that it is limited to certain cities and the younger readers.

Murthy also pointed out that digital is giving freedom to the reader to choose from various options available. In order to woo the readers, print players need to enhance the digital platform. One such example is that of the TOI Alive app, she said, adding, “TOI has bridged the gap with its Alive app and taken it into next level, bringing back the young readers to read newspaper.”

‘There is no competition as both platforms are different’
Though The Hindu lost 94,000 readers as per the latest IRS results, Suresh Srinivasan, Vice President (Advt), The Hindu feels that digital and print platforms are different and there is no competition. The same story gets reported in different ways in print and online, thereby offering ‘different news’ and there is no duplication, he maintained.

He also felt that digital consumption is popular among the tech savvy and gadget driven youth and where connectivity is better, which are mostly the metros and Tier I cities.

Media experts believe that the youth TG is the key driver for digital editions. Thus, the potential is great as more than 50 per cent of India’s population is below the age of 25 years, while more than 65 per cent of the population is below the age of 35 years. It is expected that by 2020, the average age of an Indian will be 29 years.

While this year internet penetration is growing at the rate of more than 14 per cent, the rural areas are surpassing the urban areas when it comes to internet penetration. As per the IAMAI, towns with population less than 2 lakh account for more than 21.7 million internet users, while small metros have about 15.1 million internet users.

Industry experts see the youth as a game changer in the foray of digital media. It will be interesting to see how print players counter the growing onslaught of digital and save their interests and market share.

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