Conferences in the age of VUCA or the new normals

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At the recent INMA India Conference although the Indian newspaper industry attempted to assert its robust growth over the past 10 years and its credibility as a medium, notes of realism were also struck. These suggested quite truthfully that print is plateauing even if the end is not exactly in sight. In the face of the prevailing newsprint prices and competition from the duopoly of aggregators – both assumed to be new normals––profits have disappeared.

If one disaggregates the ambiguous information about the Indian print media and accepts that there are actually no more than a thousand organizations that generate a purported Rs. 30,000 crore, one also has to accept that 80 or 90% of this revenue is generated by only 500 companies and that 66% is generated by the leading 100 companies. Further, 38% or Rs. 11,500 crore comes from just the leading five newspapers. One newspaper represents 16.5% or Rs. 5,000 crore.

The profits for even these leaders are stagnating. While one can credit them with a late found maturity about what their business is and active diversification and investment in new media, it is clear that this period of transition is really only about a few organizations and many of the smaller publishers will close down or be consolidated. Some will of course be invested in or acquired by big, profit driven corporate, organizations. Finding investment, and fiercely competing with each other, the larger papers in every language and region will create the conditions to make sure that the smaller dailies shut down.

While high newsprint prices are the new normal for the bigger dailies who are focused on yeild and decreasing pagination, they will likely make the transition to new diversified media and lateral opportunities.

For smaller newspaper survival is already in question. In the wake of steep newsroom cuts, a question posed with increasing frequency is why don’t many of the local news organizations simply become nonprofits? Actually, to a large extent they already are – and as the opportunities for political and collateral benefits dwindle, they will have to openly declare themselves as such to raise donations openly or set up hybrid business models, or close down.

At the same time, tens if not yet hundreds of independent online news sites operate as nonprofits. Voice, digital radio and video are an increasingly important and active part of local news ecosystems even though much of the distribution and revenue accrues to social media. A variety of new media and business models will emerge in India too.

The technology for creation, broadcast, reach and engagement has been flattened and made more democratically available. There is, basically too much immediate information that is needed and there are an ever growing number of important stories to tell as long as the news industry is not squeamish about establishing and expanding its rights to expression.

2023 promises an interesting ride for print in India

Indian Printer and Publisher founded in 1979 is the oldest B2B trade publication in the multi-platform and multi-channel IPPGroup. While the print and packaging industries have been resilient in the past 33 months since the pandemic lockdown of 25 March 2020, the commercial printing and newspaper industries have yet to recover their pre-Covid trajectory.

The fragmented commercial printing industry faces substantial challenges as does the newspaper industry. While digital short-run printing and the signage industry seem to be recovering a bit faster, ultimately their growth will also be moderated by the progress of the overall economy. On the other hand book printing exports are doing well but they too face several supply-chain and logistics challenges.

The price of publication papers including newsprint has been high in the past year while availability is diminished by several mills shutting down their publication paper and newsprint machines in the past four years. Indian paper mills are also exporting many types of paper and have raised prices for Indian printers. To some extent, this has helped in the recovery of the digital printing industry with its on-demand short-run and low-wastage paradigm.

Ultimately digital print and other digital channels will help print grow in a country where we are still far behind in our paper and print consumption and where digital is a leapfrog technology that will only increase the demand for print in the foreseeable future. For instance, there is no alternative to a rise in textbook consumption but this segment will only reach normality in the next financial year beginning on 1 April 2023.

Thus while the new normal is a moving target and many commercial printers look to diversification, we believe that our target audiences may shift and change. Like them, we will also have to adapt with agility to keep up with their business and technical information needs.

Our 2023 media kit is ready, and it is the right time to take stock and reconnect with your potential markets and customers. Print is the glue for the growth of liberal education, new industry, and an emerging economy. We seek your participation in what promises to be an interesting ride.

– Naresh Khanna

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