Papers need hike in cover price as well as monetisation of digital content: Probal Ghosal

Ghosal, Director- Amar Ujala Limited, talks about the adoption of digital subscription model among Hindi and vernacular papers

e4m by Dipali Banka
Updated: May 30, 2020 10:43 AM

As acceptance for e-papers and online content is on a rise, newspapers are putting their e-papers behind paywalls. We catch up with Probal Ghosal, Director- Amar Ujala Limited, about the adoption of digital subscription model among Hindi and vernacular papers.

Top English dailies are planning to put their content behind paywall to monetise online content. What is your view on this? Do you see other newspapers, especially Hindi and vernacular papers, too following this route?

In the recent times, newspaper brands have seen unprecedented hike in digital content consumption, be it e-paper subscriptions or users accessing online news content. In fact, the latest IRS report also sheds light on this fact. Anticipating this rising trend, we launched paid model for e-paper last year itself at a nominal subscription cost. However, when we look at the subscription plans of the English newspaper brands, their subscription plans are at par with the cover prices of offline newspaper. Hence, as the habit for reading e-paper is fairly low along with e-paper being restricted to only one reader whereas physical copies being shared between multiple readers, success of expensive subscription plans becomes limited.

We hence kept the subscription plans at nominal costs as our initial aim was building the habit for the reader. In fact, now with Covid-19, it has become all the more imperative for e-paper/online content subscription models to be kicked in the system for sustenance and survival of the business. Currently, accessibility being an issue, people are looking to read the newspaper brand of their choice for the credibility it carries and the loyalty a reader has towards the brand. So, if they were not getting a printed copy in their hands, they would go online and access it, also pay for it for the reader is interested in the content that the brand has to offer. In fact, even after the situation gets normalised, people will still be reading the e-paper due to the habit that got changed in this process, and this changed behaviour will offer an opportunity to newspaper brands to monetise their content offering.

So, the cycle of growth of e-paper gets reduced, and because transformation is taking place, people will access more through online and this change in behaviour will further give impetus to the content monetiation trend, which all brands will eventually get into.

What is your reading about the subscription-based model for the Indian print market? What are the market dynamics you anticipate for this, going forward? What challenges will Indian companies face going ahead if they ask readers to pay for online content?

In the print industry, we have been noticing the stagnancy of advertising revenue for the last couple of years. Hence, the future of India’s newspaper business will be a mix of adoption of monetisation of digital content/e-paper along with increasing the cover price of the newspaper, because both the things have to co-exist. So a trusted and reputed newspaper brand will be able to command higher cover price for sale of newspaper and similarly monetise online content. Though, the price points will certainly be low for online subscription, particularly for language papers in tier 2/tier 3 and rural markets.

Also, we need to understand that there always will be a separate set of readership for print newspaper because of its habit, credibility, information and because newspaper works as knowledge partner. Hence, a well reputed credible newspaper brand has to work on monetising online content for the new generation audience/users while parallelly increasing the cover price of newspaper keeping the overall brand profitability in mind. Also, in near future, print in tier 2/tier 3 markets will grow due to higher state GDP growth and also due to newspaper carrying different set of values in these markets. This, for sometime, will give slight push to the advertising revenue but that will not be enough from the overall profitability point of view. Hence, the brands will have to work out a plan having a mix of both- increase in the cover price and monetize online offerings. Though initially, contribution of e-paper subscription model will be very low in the overall scenario, but due to fast changing consumer habits and acceptance for e-papers and online content on a rise, there will be a change in the future as we go forward.

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