Despite assurances that the print media is a booming business, Manjula Rajagopal, associate editor of the Tamil daily Dinamalar, returned home from the World Newspapers Congress that concluded here Saturday wondering if she can compete with the tablet market.
The newspaper business in India is gaining 10 percent per year, but the fear of editors like Manjula is that a whole generation of readers may grow up getting their news on a tablet computer. The emerging tablet market is a challenge to newspapers like Dinamalar with a circulation of 850,000 copies, considering that the Indian government is giving free tablet computers to students.
Many people at the Congress wondered about the future of print and to see publishers still believed in printed newspapers. The verdict is that the future of print is bright, particularly outside Europe and, unlike in Germany, where most of the publishers are focusing on the digital media.
It’s true that the newspaper circulation declined in print worldwide last year, but it more than made up with an increase in digital audiences, as per the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) annual update of world press trends.
Other trends include varying media consumption patterns across the world. Print circulation is increasing in Asia, but declining in mature markets in the West. The main decline is in free dailies.
For advertisers, newspapers are more time-efficient and effective than other media. Newspapers continue to reach more people than the internet does. Digital advertising revenues are not compensating for the ad revenues lost to print. Social media are changing the concept and process of content gathering and dissemination. But the revenue model for news companies in the social media arena remains hard to find.
The news publishing business has become one of constant updating, of monitoring, distilling and repacking information. Innovation is key and it begins with the name as far as Shyam Parekh, editor of DNA Ahmedabad is concerned.
“No newspaper has dared to drop its edit page. We did,” said Parekh at the Editors Forum session titled Innovation in Print, adding but the newspaper didn’t ditch the opinion or analysis. It moved opinion and commentary to the front page.
“Rather than confining the newspaper’s opinions to an editor’s page, the move “made readers realise the importance of our opinion,” he said.
The Malayala Manorama group is working hard to capture the important growth in the digital markets, particularly mobile.
“While print circulation continues to grow in India it is important to note that the growth is from rural areas, and the urban youth are turning to TV, online and mobile,” said Mariam Mammen Mathew, chief operating officer of Manorama Online in India.
Internet penetration in India is less than 10 percent, but the country has 519 million mobile subscribers.
“Most Indians will first experience the web on their handset…. There is a plethora of platforms vying for the media consumer. We need to innovate to get the eyeballs and retain our customers. It’s all about creating alternate revenue streams. The good news is the markets are slowly recognising the value of content. . We empower our editors, we tell them content is important and there is value to it,” she said.
Madhav Chinnappa, formerly a manager at the BBC and presently a strategic business partner development manager for Google News & Books, said that things have fundamentally changed with the emergence and growing influence of players such YouTube, WikiLeaks, Twitter and Facebook.
“We are in an area of experimentations, and making mistakes is not important. What is essential here is how fast you correct them. Creativity should not be driven by short-term financial reward…innovation should not be seen as a luxury. The cycle of changes is too rapid, hence innovation needs to be an essential part of any news organization.”
The Congress attracted 1,1000 visitors from over 100 countries, many of whom recalled how the publication of WikiLeaks last year by The Hindu had rattled the Indian government. The controversial findings were a result of a formal agreement between N. Ram, the paper’s editor, and WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange.
Ram said that his decision to publish the cables has forever changed the game of journalism and the current politics in his country.
“It shows the power of new technology. But even more the power of ideas of justice and freedom, including the idea much beloved in the hacker community that information wants to be free,” said Ram, adding that newspapers need to be more aggressive and bold while working with unconventional sources of information and whistleblowers.
“Take risks with collaborating with the geeks and the hackers and develop your IT and digital platforms,” he said.
During the World Editors Forum, WikiLeaks was described as a non-traditional journalism source. However the golden rule remains the same that it is not the source that is as important as the credibility of the information leaked to editors.