Contemporary Changes In Print Media
In India

By Dr. Mrinal Chatterjee

(mrinaliimc@yahoo.in)

 

(The writer is Professor, Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIMC), Sanchar Marg, Dhenkanal 759 001, Orissa. This paper was presented at the National Seminar on ‘Future of Print Media’, February 17-18, 2009, Kolkata.)

 

Brief History: First a quick look at the brief history of communications. Human beings started to speak about 60,000 years ago. People started to write some 5,000 years ago. Some 600 years ago people started to publish, if we do not take into account other attempts of publishing by relief method in China. Radio was invented some 110 years ago, television about 80 years ago. Internet was born about 45 years ago, and mobile phone, the way we use it now, was given patent right some 30 years ago. It is clear that new technology is coming into play more frequently now. This plays a significant role both in the content and form of communication. Before we discuss that another quick look at the brief history of mass media in India. The first newspaper in India was published in 1780. Radio was introduced in 1924, television in 1959. Internet was introduced in early 1990. Mobile telephone was introduced in mid 1995. At present over 62,000 newspapers and periodicals are published in India, Daily circulation of newspapers are over 180 million. There are over 300 radio stations in government and private domain. More are on their way including a sizable number of community radio stations. There are footprints of over 500 television channels in India. With over 250 million mobile handsets, India is one of the fastest growing markets for mobile phones. There are 3.2 million internet connections. The number is growing by the day.

 

The Indian Media and Entertainment (M&E) industry is on a growth surge and is expected to cross US$ 200 billion by 2015. It reached US $ 11.92 billion mark in 2007 and is the fastest growing in the Asia-Pacific region by having a compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 18.5%. The situation looks happy for the Print Media too. Unlike in many western countries circulation and number of publications are in fact increasing. According to the findings of National Readership Survey (NRS) 2006, the reach of the press medium (dailies and magazines combined) has increased from 216 million to 222 million (almost 3%) over the last one year. The number of new publications registered during 2005-06 was 2,074.  Percentage of growth of total registered publications over the previous year: 3.43% according to figures of Registrar of Newspapers of India (RNI). Dailies have driven the growth in the press medium, their reach rising as a proportion of all individuals aged 12 years and above.[1] The situation looks quite comfortable. But looks are deceptive. There are problems.

 

Problems with Print Media: The most dangerous of the problems facing print media in India is that some groups are reading less. We may term it as rise of aliteracy. It refers to someone who, although able to read, is uninterested in reading and uninterested in literature. Newspapers are losing readers in 15-25 age categories to television and internet. It is one of the biggest threats to the future of print media. This fact is vindicated by NRS 2006 findings also, which says time spent in reading has remained the same: 39 min daily on an average per day over last year. Although total circulation of newspapers and periodicals has increased, per paper readership is falling.[2]

 

 There is a change in the way people engage with and consume media content. ‘With the end user devices of today it doesn’t really lend itself to reflection, but to byte sized consumption - and the interactive nature seems to reinforce this “Continual Partial Attention” model’[3]. This does not suit print media, which warrants attention for understanding. 

 

Cost of production and distribution of newspapers and periodicals is increasing, pushing up the cover price. In recent times all major newspapers and magazines have increased their cover price and reduced the number of pages. It may be noted that print media market in India is extremely price-sensitive. A slight increase in cover price affects the circulation, which in turn affects the advertisement tariff and thus advertisement revenue.

 

Another interesting development is the increasing habit of getting news free thanks to growing number of news sites on net and mobile news groups. Even on television, there are free news channels. Even if one watches pay news channel, he/she does not have to pay then and there, and does not feel that he/she is paying for news. This makes an entire generation averse to paying for news. They want their newspapers delivered at their doorsteps free. When that does not happen, they stop buying newspaper.

 

Advertisement revenue is falling over the years for most of the newspapers and periodicals in real terms. There are other players in communication spectrum -- like radio, television, internet, mobile -- to draw attention of the audience and advertisers. It gives rise to further problems. First, print media has to make extra effort to secure advertisement. It is common knowledge that pure advertisement driven media usually dives straight for the lowest common demographic. It eventually becomes the hand maiden of the advertisers, bowing to their whims and fancies. It caters to what readers want or to be more specific what the advertisers think the readers want, rather than what they need. The disconnect between ‘want’ and ‘need’ grows. Socially relevant but market unfriendly reportage becomes a casualty, robbing print media its intrinsic strength. 

 

Easy availability of more user-friendly, cost-effective, novel and networked platforms like e-book, reading material on mobile, etc. pose another problem for print media.

 

On top of these problems, with the introduction of internet in a big way, there is a change in the very form, format and functioning of mass media. Mediated mainstream mass media is receding. There is demassification, demediation and democratization. To list the changes:

 

        Media production is being democratized

 

        Media production is being atomized

 

        Media formats are converging

 

        Media is becoming social

 

        Media can be distributed from anywhere

 

        Media can be consumed everywhere

 

        Media is becoming hyper local

 

        Media is narrowcasting

 

        Media has utility: search and linking

 

        Media reproduction has zero marginal cost

 

The shift is towards social media. There is a distinct paradigm shift there. There are over 184 million bloggers and vloggers generating content, mostly for free. There are millions of video clippings uploaded daily. There is podcasting. But the point is not in numbers. The point I am trying to make is the change in nature of content. Social media is counter-intuitive to mainstream media. While in mainstream media space is defined by the media owner or manager, in case of social media it is defined by the consumer or user. While mainstream media is mostly one way, social media is two way. Mainstream media delivers message, in social media it is like being a part of a conversation. In mainstream media content is created by the media manager, in social media content is mostly user created.

 

These changes are affecting all mainstream media, more so the print media, especially now in the times of global recession. Print media is fighting with its back to the wall. Contemporary changes show the struggle to keep afloat. Gone are the days of fat profit for the print media. There has been reduction in size of the broadsheet newspapers. Almost all mainstream broadsheet newspapers have gone for a slimmer size -- ‘to have an international look’. The fact is by trimming, there is a saving of 17% of newsprint expenses. Almost all newspapers have reduced the number of pages, especially in their non-metro editions. Attempts are being made to cut news gathering expenses. That means job cuts in editorial department or clubbing some editorial jobs with revenue earning departments. The culture of the daily newspaper newsroom is also changing. New job demands are drawing a generation of young, versatile, tech-savvy, high-energy staff as financial pressures drive out higher-salaried veteran reporters and editors. It makes the newspaper poorer so far the quality of content is concerned. The essential difference between television and print media reportage is the depth and relevance. Veteran journalists with their institutional knowledge help provide that. With them leaving print media, especially newspapers are losing some of its strength.  

 

People have started writing elegies for print media.

 

Is the print media dying then?

 

There are many who believe this, including most recently The Economist (August 2006) which is following the line that extinction of all or some of the papers in the UK is only a matter of time. It claims ‘…that newspapers are on the way out and that it is only a matter of time before there are closures with half the world’s newspapers likely to close in the foreseeable future because ‘business of selling words to readers and selling readers to advertisers, which has sustained their role in society, is falling apart.’ A study of Australian newspapers was conducted in 2006[4]. Based on the survey relevant data were collected and trends underlined. It has been prepared by collaboration between academics from Australian Journalism Schools and industry members of the Press Council under the guidance of a Steering Committee comprising both. The data are threatening. Reading habits are changing. Some age groups are reading newspapers less. Circulation is threatened. Nearly half of those who read Australian metropolitan newspapers are over fifty. Successful responses to the ubiquitous Internet challenge are essential.

 

Will that happen in India? No. Not yet. The special attributes of newspapers, their involvement, credibility, creativity, consistency and flexibility of use will continue to ensure their longevity.

 

There is another important aspect for which people would like news media, especially print media to survive: its contribution for the functioning of democracy.  In a democracy the most important thing we have is good information. Newspapers have traditionally served our democracy well in that capacity. Nobel Prize-winner Amartya Sen famously said there has never been a famine in a democratic country because the news about food shortages or distribution failures cannot be hidden and suppressed. 

 

There is no denying the fact that social media is growing. ‘Citizens and amateurs and well-meaning whistle-blowers will sometimes commit wonderful acts of journalism. But they will not do so reliably, day in and day out, and there aren’t enough of them with the interest, free time, and goodwill to do everything journalists have been doing for about 400 years’[5]. Anyone can call himself a journalist and publish something on the web, but newspapers possess the resources to provide a depth and breadth on issues that is difficult to replicate.

 

The appetite is there for news, and newspapers are well positioned to serve those needs once they figure out the revenue challenge associated with the new forms of distribution. There is hope for print media. However, the change in media scene requires a different mindset, different approaches and different ways of working.

 

How do we cope with the change?

 

First, we have to know the strong points and scope for growth. There is significant scope for growth for print media in India. According to the findings of NRS 2006, 359 million people who can read and understand any language do not read any publication. It is not just affordability that is a constraint, since 20 million of these literate non-readers belong to the upscale segments.

 

Print products offer more space for agenda setting, background/context and opinion. No other medium can match print media in this count.

 

Reputation of newspapers for credibility is impeccable. It is good once in a while to listen to a blogger. But when it comes to credibility there is none to beat an established newspaper. 

 

Print media provide the kind of optical and tactile pleasure that no other media can match. It is functionally convenient too. Print media has to build on its strength and discover new areas of influence and revenue generation. It has to learn the new language of local and global. It has to use alternative technological media options as an ally, and not as a frightening enemy. From passive disseminators, newspapers/periodicals need to become active engagers.

 

How to engage the readers?

 

There are some basic matters like the writing must be good; lay out attractive; printing high quality. Today when people have more choices a sloppy product has no chance of independent survival.

 

More important than that is the way content is represented in print media, especially in newspapers and newsmagazines. As A.K.Bhattacharya, Chief Editor of Business Standard says, “Journalists should set agenda for the readers. Readers should feel, ah this is what I wanted to know. Journalists should provide the meaning and understanding to the readers. They should take the initiative. If they do not do that then the initiative is usurped by vested interests. Print media has the potential to provide understanding to the readers. Journalists must utilize this opportunity.”[6]

 

NRSo6 has – for the first time – attempted to capture the topics that interest readers across different strata of society in India. Apart from news and politics, sports are the topic of interest among readers. This is followed by films & television serials.

 

Print media can provide the meaning and context – in short understanding of any event or issue better than all other media. That is the strength of print media, which can be utilized. ‘What’ is increasingly been told and shown by radio and television.  Print media should attempt to tell ‘why’ and ‘what next’. It should provide a platform for informed level headed debate.

 

Print media has to be utility oriented. There should be what is called ‘value for money’. For that there can be a synergy with the online edition of the printed edition.

 

There should be more productive interaction with the readers in several forms to know what his/her information need is. What does he/she wants and needs from the newspaper/periodicals.  

 

New Business Models: There should be no illusion there that print media business will yield the kind of profit, it used to say about 20 years ago. It has to be noted here that in India many of the newspapers and periodicals were/are started not as a business venture, but as a social and/or political venture. Economic profit is not the only expected outcome for many newspaper organizations. However, it is important. In fact lack of profit or downright loss has prompted closure of several newspapers in USA, UK and several European countries. So much so that there have suggestions to run newspapers out of endowment created by philanthropic organizations.[7]

 

Therefore print media companies have to look for newer avenues to earn revenue. Here are some ideas:

 

Convergence. New technology should be taken not as an enemy but an ally. Newspapers are earning revenue from their online editions. Tathagata Satpathy, editor of an Oriya daily Dharitri says ‘I never expected my online edition to earn the kind of money it is doing now.’[8]

        Multi media platform. Print media companies should now adopt multi-media platform. In fact almost all large and successful print media companies have now become multi media companies.

 

        Niche market.  According to a study titled “There’s life in the old dog yet” by consulting firm Roland Berger Strategy Consultants, print media can grow despite digital competition if they apply various success factors. As Alexander Mogg, Partner in the InfoCom Competence Center at Roland Berger Strategy Consultants, say, We see growth potential in the premium reader segment and in other niches. The ability to fill a niche, strengthen the brand and improve competence in innovation will be the decisive factors.” Rigorous orientation toward the target group and the alignment of the medium, the reader market and advertising strategy as part of an overall publishing concept have a positive effect on sales. That’s because premium customers are ready to pay good money for high-quality offers. And premium customers are especially attractive to advertisers. “Especially for image ads and premium segments, print media will continue to be an attractive environment in spite of online competition.”[9]

 

        Bottom of the Pyramid model. This refers to targeting the masses. Print media in India, especially mainstream newspapers have been doing that for ages. There can be further attempts to reach the masses and improve revenue collection by turning the number as strength.

 

        Find unexplored market. As stated earlier there are hundreds of thousands of literate people, who can afford to buy newspapers and periodicals and not doing so. Attempts have to be made to make them buy and patronize print media.

 

        Catch them young. Young people especially need to be introduced to print media. Investing in brands therefore pays off, because strong brands are becoming more and more important in an increasingly diverse media landscape. Possible ways to do this include “worlds of experience” and events such as conventions, seminars and trips. They not only spark interest, but also represent the next level for profitable sidelines after the first generation of tie-in product business from books, CDs, DVDs, etc [10].

 

        Blue Ocean strategy. Blue ocean strategy is about creating and capturing uncontested market space, thereby making the competition irrelevant. Creating Blue Oceans is a way to make the competition irrelevant by creating a leap in value for both the company and its customers. 

 

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Endnote

 

[1] The National Readership Study 2006 (NRS 2006) in India is the largest survey of its kind in the world, with a sample size of 2,84,373 house-to-house interviews to measure the media exposure and consumer product penetration in both urban and rural India – and of course the estimated readership of publications. The study covers 535 publications of which 230 are dailies and 305 are magazines.

 

[2] IRS 2008

 

[3] http://broadstuff.com/archives/1086-The-Future-of-Print-Media-on-Aggregate..html. This is one of the most interesting articles I’ve read in months, and the most interesting on the print media since reading Flat Earth News earlier this year. It’s a study from journalist Tyler Marshall and the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, about in the US print newspaper sector today.

 

[4] http://www.presscouncil.org.au/snpma/ch02.html

 

[5] http://mindymcadams.com/tojou/2008/the-survival-of-journalism/ Retrieved on February 14, 2009

 

[6] A.K.Bhattacharya in an interview with the author on 23 january, 2009 at Dhenkanal, Orissa.

 

[7] David Swensen and Michael Schmidt of Yale University write, “Many newspapers will not weather the digital storm on their own. Only a handful of foundations and wealthy individuals have the money required to endow, and thereby preserve, our nation’s premier news gathering organizations. Enlightened philanthropists must act now or watch a vital component of democracy fade into irrelevance. Times of India, Bhubaneswar Edition, January 29, 2009

 

[8] During an interview on February 15, 2009 at Dhenkanal, Orissa.

 

[9]  http://www.rolandberger.com/company/press/releases/518-press_archive2008_sc_content/The_future_of_print_media.html

 

[10] http://www.rolandberger.com/company/press/releases/518-press_archive2008_sc_content/The_future_of_print_media.html

 

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