South Asian publishers address regional trends

WAN-IFRA India Expo 2013, the second-largest international exhibition in the world for trends and practices in the newspaper printing and publishing industry, will be held 11-13 September in Bangalore. Ahead of the event, WAN-IFRA interviewed a few leading South Asian publishing managers to find out what they see as the major current trends in the regional publishing industry.

by WAN-IFRA Staff | June 24, 2013

WAN-IFRA: What are the most important trends in the Indian news publishing market at the moment?

Satyan Gajwani, CEO, Times Internet Limited: The newspaper industry in India continues to show a healthy growth (9% as projected by FICCI-KPMG Indian Media and Entertainment Industry Report 2012). Considering the growing literacy and newspaper reach, there is a huge potential for still future growth.

The growth is in smaller cities and in languages too. There are new upcoming markets in a developing economy like India which are getting ready to be tapped. There is a demand in these markets which advertisers can cater to and would require media platforms, especially print, to reach out to the local market. Surprisingly, the IRS reflects that the appeal of the newspaper amongst younger population in India has improved. Some of the key factors favouring newspaper business in India are low cover price (affordability), strong and cheap (to the doorstep) distribution system and a high youth percentage in population.

Jayant Mammen Mathew, Deputy Editor and Director of Malayala Manorama: There is a definite move towards the regional and vernacular market in India. There will be growth in Tier 2 and Tier 3 towns as there is large scale development in these areas. With this, I hope the language press gets the importance and the rates from advertisers.

Aritra Sarkar, Vice President-Strategy, ABP Pvt. Ltd.: The broadening of digital audience, on web and mobile, and the slowdown in the readership among the English-speaking audience in the country are the first. As the result the market is more fragmented. The boom days for print are behind and needs a lot of push to grow through innovation and good packaging of content. The younger audience no longer sees newspaper as an automatic choice to consume news, but they do it online all the time.

There is a huge untapped market for Indian language press, particularly in Eastern India. The growth of suburban and rural India cannot be underestimated. As people migrate to big cities in search of jobs, it is creating a market that Indian language newspapers can capitalise on.

Accessing and interacting in local language content on internet is not easy due to myriad issues, including language compatibility, and it makes local language publishing in print more attractive. However, the publishers are not able to maximise their income, due to distribution challenges in rural India. TV by its ability to reach wider audiences enjoys a large market share of advertising in these regions.

What can Indian newspapers learn from the recent experiences of papers in North America and Europe (declining circulation and ad revenue because of the Internet)?

Satyan Gajwani: Internet penetration, though increasing, is still not very high in India. Learning from the West, the Indian newspaper business changed its focus from circulation revenue to advertising revenue. Indian newspapers reoriented their approach towards low affordable cover price and a strong yet cheap distribution system to ensure reach. Attempts to make the newspaper more interactive and youth-centric also possibly hold the key. However, times are changing and hence most media houses have started looking at the new age media in a big way.

In fact, Times Group was amongst the first media companies in India to venture into all new-age media as well. The trick currently in India is also to draw synergies between the newspaper and new-age media like the internet. Today, Times Group has managed to do this quite successfully. Also, we have made newspapers more active, vibrant and engaging for general readers.

Jayant Mammen Mathew: I think India still has a bit of time before we see this decline happening. As a result, we will be able to learn from the declines in the West. The most important point is that editorial content should be paid for in whatever platform it is made available: Internet, mobile, tablet or whatever new device comes along. The days of free lunch are over, and I hope all the newspapers and media companies come together and charge for content. I see this happening in the West, where newspapers are now starting to charge for content.

Aritra Sarkar: There is no doubt that digital media will be dominant in the future. India will soon go through the experiences of the papers in the West. We, the Indian publishers, to be relevant in the digital media, have to completely re-look at our websites and make our website a community site. Information sharing culture has to set in and publishers should be prepared to take audience participation in co-creating the news, but without affecting the credibility of the news. That will be a formula for success. Publishers need a different mindset to tackle and learn from the experiences of the West.

Business on internet is not just about advertising which is just 20% of the pie, and search takes most of the money. We should re-engineer subscription online, have to look at e-commerce which is a potential money spinner. The days of easy cash are over and every publisher has to work to earn money from wide variety of sources.

Is there a move toward paid content (making readers pay for the content) among Indian newspapers’ web sites?

Satyan Gajwani: Indian newspaper websites have been successfully experimenting with paid content. From simple one-story advertorials to customer-sponsored sections on the website and mobile apps, each of these models have been tried and explored. Both the newspapers and the advertisers have now accepted this form of brands reaching out to customers. Native advertising works especially well on small-form mobile devices where large format banners cannot run. At, we have established guidelines on what content can be accepted and how it is presented to the users to ensure that paid content is separately identifiable.

Jayant Mammen Mathew: There is a move, but it is negligible and in very early days. We have started charging for some of our magazines. This will happen once connectivity improves and newspapers come together and realize that there is a cost for producing quality editorial content.

Aritra Sarkar: I am a bit doubtful, because of the competition from other media vehicles such as TV and among newspapers offering the content for free. Today, information is commoditised and most content comes from wire sources. In order to make the content paid by readers, we have to create a different perception of the quality of content, offer high-quality content that is both insightful and analytic. Newspapers have not developed capabilities to do that and to offer them in multimedia format. They have to create their own niche, have a total rethink of content creation, and package them with social sharing capabilities, rather than just offer plain vanilla content.

If the question is about content paid by advertisers, or sponsored content, it is very much prevalent in Indian media, in the form of advertorials and by other means. It has to be checked, as the credibility of news publishers is at stake. Our (ABP) group does not encourage any kind of sponsored content, but many others do.

How can Indian newspapers earn money from mobile services?

Satyan Gajwani: The Indian device market runs an entire spectrum from low-end messaging-and-call-only handsets to feature phones to the latest smart phones from Apple and Samsung. The content consumption patterns are different across all these devices. From tracking news, match scores and celebrities through alerts, to consuming native messaging through news and interacting with advertiser promotions, there are significant monetization opportunities at each segment.

Alive, Times Group’s augmented reality application, is a step towards enhancing the reader experience and giving the advertiser a much enhanced value proposition to engage and communicate with their customer in more than one way. Right from interactivity to enhanced experience to creating multiple touch points to location-based services to m-commerce, Alive can actually make news and advertising in the newspaper come alive.

Jayant Mammen Mathew: Newspapers can earn money through paid content and advertising. I think the future is the mobile in India and most Indians will access the Internet through the mobile.

Aritra Sarkar: Bandwidth and high-speed networks are issues in earning money from mobile services. At the current infrastructure level in Indian mobile telecom, multimedia downloads are not feasible. It is not just about earning money from ringtones, but be able to earn money from offering high-definition video content that can be watched and downloaded without interference. People will pay for such content and there is an opportunity to capitalise by offering live content.


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