“I firmly believe that the Indian readership story is alive and vibrant. India is one of the few markets in the world where readership is still growing.” This was how Lynn de Souza, Chairman and CEO, Lintas Media Group, who is elected the first Chairperson of the Readership Studies Council of India, began her conversation with exchange4media, as the discussion on what lies ahead of RSCI began.
The very formation of the RSCI is a milestone for the industry, because not only does this finally bring the Media Research Users’ Council (MRUC) and the Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC) that was fronting the NRSC (National Readership Studies Council) on the same side of the table, but also the merger of the Indian Readership Survey (IRS) in its present form and National Readership Survey (NRS) meant the combining of resources to create one gold standard metric in print readership.
However, the big question is: what next.
But before that, de Souza takes the conversation back to the beginning to explain why the RSCI was needed in the first place. She stated, “The current IRS is a good product, but it is stuck in a time warp. It has to change and improve. It has to be more forward looking. Where just about everything around us is changing, the only two major changes that I have seen in the IRS in the recent years are that it has gone quarterly and the introduction of CAPI.”
She reminds that while in most developed markets, readership of newspapers and magazines is on the decline, with digital titles taking over. But here in India, as long as literacy is rapidly on the rise and still has a long way to go, there still is immense untapped potential. “There are many kinds of reading occasions and locations that the measurement system is not even capturing today, let alone measuring them,” said de Souza.
A Readership Story that Needs to be Told
Print media is a very large and important industry in India right now. While there is enormous fascination with television and digital, and print is perceived an old, has-been medium, it still commands 45 per cent of overall ad spends and is a Rs 20,000-crore ad industry. “We need to be able to paint a true picture of what is happening in this industry,” said de Souza, adding, “Publishers are trying so many different things today. I met someone from an Oriya publication a few days ago and they were telling me they had started an eight-page English supplement for the younger family members. The current IRS would not even capture this. We don’t really have a handle on how readership habits are changing, or what kids are reading.”
There are multiple papers coming into homes, there is a second generation that is reading another language in many homes, there is more readership while commuting and on the go. “The readership space is undergoing a transformation and most of this is inadequately picked up right now. We need to do justice to publishers and the print industry, not because we want to make them look good, far from it, but to genuinely support and understand the changes taking place that affect all stakeholders. We need to help publishers to use research to their advantage, to understand the interplay between their brands and the other brands that their readers interact with in other media, or use or buy. The same goes for the media buyers and the advertisers,” de Souza elaborated.
For de Souza, it is not about just being a currency. “Over the years, the IRS has been demoted into mostly being a currency, that is used for buying and selling, and that is fine. But it also needs to be a true indicator of all that is changing in the world of reading,” she said.
Right now, it all’s open!
“Right now it is all open – I am open to everything, as are people in the committee,” said de Souza, adding, “Nobody is stuck on the status quo, though that said, if the status quo is working, then you keep it – why fix something that aint broke? IRS is not broke, but as I said earlier, currently it is not doing full justice to publishing in India.”
Innovation is what de Souza and the RSCI is looking for from the start to finish of the process. The RSCI is approaching this opportunity with an open mind. Even as some quarters of the industry told exchange4media that the next fiscal is an attempted deadline for a new avatar of IRS, de Souza said, “First, we need to table some of these points to the committee and see their reaction and response. Since many of us have already been in discussion, I am hopeful that the committee will support innovation.”
She informed that all committee members had been looking at RSCI’s next steps for a while. The RSCI is looking for some gold standards from across the world. “Perhaps we would appoint a taskforce to look at some of the changes happening in readership measurement – we don’t have to ape the West. We can develop and design things for ourselves – the important thing is to consult with and carry our research partners on what it we decide to, and carry the industry along,” de Souza said.
One of the first action points for the RSCI is to appoint a technical committee that comprises the right people. The technical committee may be, or may not be, led by a policy maker or a member of RSCI’s 20-member committee, but it would “certainly have people with a lot of intellect and foresight, who understand research and its nuances and requisites”.
Another question on everyone’s mind is who would be the research partner. Hansa Research is on a contract with MRUC, which is subject to renewal. de Souza clarified that one could not assume Hansa would be RSCI’s research partners for the new IRS. “They would be given the same chance as anyone else who may be interested. It is up to the RSCI managing committee to decide.”
Lynn de Souza makes it clear that RSCI will take this opportunity to innovate and create the single best readership research there can be. “We are looking for innovations,” she stated, adding, “I am personally hoping to work with people who are open to new ways of working and approaching readership. The technical committee and the research partner would need to be a very strong combination of domain knowledge, intellectual honesty, and lateral thinking. All said and done, I do believe it is important to show the publishing industry of India in good light, though all may not agree with me. It is not a dying industry, and projecting it as such, is not good for India, for our economy, for those who want to invest here or make careers in it.”