Paid subscription for online content a distant reality?

Although news publishers agree that paid subscription of online content is a good idea on papers, in reality it is a road not likely to be travelled any time soon. We explore the stumbling blocks...

e4m by Abid Hasan
Updated: Feb 4, 2015 9:15 AM
Paid subscription for online content a distant reality?

Advertisers are taking to the new medium or digital to promote their products and services, but the traditional medium i.e. print doesn’t seem to slow down.

Every year the industry talks about the growing strength of digital. According to GroupM’s biannual advertising expenditure report ‘This Year Next Year’ (TYNY), India’s advertising investment is estimated to reach Rs 48,977 crore in 2015. This represents a growth of 12.6 per cent for this year over the corresponding period last year.

The report highlights that digital media continues to show the maximum growth with 37 per cent in 2015. Digital has been growing at an average rate of 35 per cent over the past two years. Video, mobile and social will be the biggest growth drivers in digital media this year.

According to a report released by the Internet and Mobile Association of India and IMRB International in September 2014, the digital advertising market will reach Rs 3,575 crore in the country by March this year. It also indicates the growth of the digital domain.

Readers are habituated of getting content free on web. We asked publishers if they felt 2015 would see digital paid subscription in newspapers and magazines in India.

Several publishers feel that the digital paid subscription of newspapers and magazines will take some more years to become a reality.

“Newspapers on digital format are not exclusive. The question is will newspapers charge for content on digital format? We hope it happens. So far nobody has done it. I think The Hindu was one of the first and few newspapers to charge readers for accessing their e-paper,” said Anant Goenka, Wholetime Director and Head - New Media, Indian Express.

He added, “It’s a great idea and as far as The Indian Express is concerned, we are growing every month on digital -- both in the terms of revenue and readership. We don’t see the need for us right now, but in the long term I hope most of the leading players will eventually introduce the pay system.”

Varghese Chandy, Senior General Manager at Malayala Manorama, feels it to be a slow evolution. “If you look at the evolution of digital, the problem is whatever you do on print, digital will make-up at the same time. The subscription model will take time to evolve. Paid subscription is a huge jump as digital revenue is evolving slowly. The biggest issue is if one newspaper is asking for paid subscription, the other will supply it for free and the value goes down. It will probably come, but not this year,” he said.

However, publishers feel innovation is not a boundary for newspapers and magazines on the digital platform. To sell content to readers, publishers can create an archive on their respective websites.

Jwalant Swaroop, CEO of Sakal Media Group, feels the subscription will never get paid. He said, “I don’t think it will ever get paid. The fact is certain content readers will pay and download it. The archive system sounds more useful. An organisation needs to play in such a manner that brings readers to its website and pay for downloading the content. It is a good idea to click on the site and buy whatever they like.”

Manas Mohan, CEO-Publishing at ACK Media, too feels that paid subscription is not happening this year. He said, “Technically, the digital subscriptions of magazines are a tangible business. Paid downloads from publishers’ apps is a reality (the ACK app crossed 10,000 paid sales several months ago).”

When asked will the business continue to grow? He said, “It's a relatively small base, so exponential growth is expected.” However, he added that it would not catch up with paper sales of magazines in 2015.

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