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Prudence for newspapers to ride the digital wave

15-October-2010
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Prudence for newspapers to ride the digital wave

Are the good old days of a dog bringing newspaper to his master over with the advent of the digital medium? Even as the hullabaloo continues, coining the present as the age of digital, hardly any newspaper in India has been able to create a strong and robust revenue model online. In the online model, the subscription charges have to be substantial to ease the already overgrowing dependence on advertising revenues. exchange4media seeks to find out whether English dailies in India have taken enough initiatives to build a strong foothold in the digital space.

Vidhu Sagar, Senior Vice President, Carat Media India, remarked, “Many players have taken the initiative to build on the digital space and a lot more still needs to be done. However, to be fair, the lead brands such as TOI, HT, ET, etc., do have a good enough digital presence already and are worthy options for readers who are digitally inclined. Most of the news sites offer complete digital editions these days and are mobile friendly too.”

However, Jyoti Kumar Bansal, Head, New Business Development, OMD India, believes that the English dailies have not taken enough steps to build a foothold on the online space. When asked about the revenue model and how it could be leveraged upon, she said, “Audiences will be willing to pay a relevant amount for exclusive content even in the digital space. Advertisers will always be willing to pay for quality and quantity audiences. So, if online versions have good audience base, advertising dollars will chase them; and if they have relevant exclusive content, audiences will pay for content. Eventually the medium will settle down and come into its own on both fronts.”

Divya Radhakrishnan, President, TME & Rediffusion Y&R, Public Relations, pointed out, “The base of English daily readers in India is 17 million, 41 per cent of them use the net. Hence, it is only prudent for English dailies to cultivate their readers on the online space. Publishing houses need to urgently gear up in this direction. The fears of foraying into the digital space for any publisher are illogical. It’s not a new business altogether, it’s only an extension of their current offerings. I would go one step further and say that they should get on to mobile-streaming as well. If packaged well, along with the print version digital can become a good revenue source.”

In India, there are still a couple of strong players, such as Mail Today, who have not yet forayed into the digital space (they merely have an e-paper). When asked whether this was a sign of doubt in the publisher’s mind, Sagar replied, “To each his own, as they say. However, reasons of non-adoption may have various contributory factors and it may not necessarily be a case of audience disinterest. To my mind, the digital wave is already upon us. To ride it and deftly maneouver around it is the only prudent approach for all participating parties. An ostrich may not gain much by burying his head in the sand anymore.” On this context, Bansal said, “Audiences are interchanging their media time between various media. However, not launching in digital space can’t stop this shift in consumer behaviour. I am sure every business has their reasons for venturing or not venturing into this space.”

On whether there was a viable revenue source in the digital space that could be capitalised upon, Sagar said, “If we follow the western example, there may be a gradual shift towards paid-for digital content over a longer period of time. But it’s all a function of stickiness of content, customisation possibilities, unique proposition and of course, pricing. But till that happens, advertising will remain the chief contributor of revenues for most players.”

According to Radhakrishnan, the upcoming trend for this industry would be “consumers’ hunger for speedy information getting satiated by the online space. Waiting until next morning will not hold water for long”.

However, media planners made it very clear that there was no eminent threat to print medium from digital medium. “A few segments of the audience may graduate to the digital medium progressively – the younger section of the readership particularly. But in keeping with the core reader profile of newspapers, the Indian market’s peculiarities and the international experience, it will be fatuous to assume that digital will sound the death knell for print,” concluded Sagar.

Going digital will in no way jeopardise the print business of publishers, it might just add up more audiences to the core product, the newspapers. The look and feel of the ‘ink and paper’ newspaper is something that the digital can never take away.

Tags Divya Radhakrishnan Vidhu Sagar Jyoti Kumar Bansal English Dailies

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