Digital owner buying print: Reality or dream for India?

exchange4media takes a look at the parallels between the Indian print and digital ecosystems to make sense of a Jeff Bezos kind of deal in the country

e4m by Saloni Surti
Updated: Aug 12, 2013 9:25 AM
Digital owner buying print: Reality or dream for India?

Mergers and acquisitions have attained a completely new appeal since the time big names such as Yahoo and Newsweek got involved. While business wiz were still analysing Tumblr’s acquisition, Yahoo went ahead to add yet another egg to its basket with Hulu. The scenario assumed further importance when industry names such as IBT and most recently, The Washington Post exhibited similar trends.

Jeff Bezos, Founder of digital conglomerate Amazon, recently bought Washington Post for $250 million. While there has been no clarity on Bezos’ rationale behind the acquisition, the deal has popped up a significant question around ‘the overlap between print and digital’.

The Indian scenario
Print and digital have undeniable parallels, which could be one of the reasons behind Bezos’ decision. However, can an overlap between print and digital trigger such a deal in the Indian ecosystem?

Recently, when The Times of India Crest shut down, the nation was forced to see the harsh reality behind shadows of the print industry. Also, according to international statistics, newspapers now make digital gains quickly, while their circulation sees a slide.

“Digital taking over print is a significant event that has occurred in the US. I am not one to say it would never happen in India. But it is definitely some time away,” expressed Arun Anant, CEO, The Hindu Group of Publications. Anant pointed out that there are various reasons for this, including the newspaper not being utilised to its full potential, lack of big local digital players and FDI restrictions that make entry of foreign players difficult in digital.

While Anant feels that it is a far-fetched plot, Sanjay Mehta, Joint CEO, Social Wavelength explained that a deal like this in India shall be affected by a number of external elements. “India is definitely a different market. Commercially, even in India, except for a few leading print publications, all others are making losses. But there is a political clout and a sense of power in being a newspaper owner. So there are motivations other than commerce which often drive such ownership.”

Print publishers losing out due to lack of advertisement is a trend worldwide as well as in India. Sundeep Kapur, Digital Evangelist, NCR Corporations explained that there are a lot of parallels between digital and paper readers - the key is that publications need to learn how to leverage the content and the preferences of the reader in order to serve up advertising or new revenue opportunities.

“If a deal like that should happen in India, it will be better served if the management of the new enterprise keeps the focus on content and the interests of the readers. Ultimately, this is what is going to drive success,” added Kapur.

Abhishek Karnani, Director, Free Press Journal observed, “In the English newspaper segment, they (digital and print) complement each other. Unlike in the West, print in India is growing due to reach and increasing literacy level. Even today, the trust factor of a print stands taller. Print and digital is a deadly combination of technology expert marrying expert content creators with a legacy. If Jeff successfully leverages the brand and the content of Washington Post on digital medium, he will set a future trend.”

According to a leading Indian daily official, Bezos acquiring Washington Post does not lead to any train of thought as it is a personal investment by an investor, who happened to buy a publication, thus, making this deal like any other deal.

The semi-annual report for the Alliance of Audited Media suggests that Washington Post lost its daily print circulation by 8.3 per cent, while adding 2,000 digital readers. The New York Post lost more than a quarter of its daily total and gained 50,000 digital readers, while the Daily News witnessed a 10 per cent fall in print with no digital gain.

Thus, digital taking over print is a worldwide trend. A digital owner purchasing a newspaper might not be a farfetched trend, but is bound to happen in the country sooner or later.

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