“Print media has a monopoly on the credibility business”

The stronger the government the more the fake news and pressure

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Anant Goenka, executive director of The Indian Express Group. Photo INMA
Anant Goenka, executive director of The Indian Express Group at the INMA India Conference in 2018. Photo INMA

The new generation of publishers spoke up at the INMA India conference in the persona of Anant Goenka, the young executive director of the Indian Express group, pointing out that Indian dailies still lose Rs. 4 to 12 per newspaper copy on their cover price and need to get away from the free business model. “Apart from print, in the beginning television emerged as free medium as well . . .  Even the best digital products are free in which the audience has become the product and there is nothing wrong with free, but advertisers are now being forced to think beyond reach and frequency,” he said.

“Even the biggest and best media businesses that are free can survive only with the best profile, segmentation and combinations of audiences and the richest and most dynamic data,” Goenka went on to say, adding, “The print media has taken its eye off the ball as far being able to segment the audience. We mainly do four things – news, advertising, distribute and build brands. We cannot be leaders in most of these categories as these are only partially in our control. However, we have a monopoly on the credibility business. Print is possibly the world’s and certainly India’s most credible medium. My view is that in this post-truth world, never has the weight of the word counted as much.

“Another issue is fake news, which is nothing new. In the current situation people opine before they read. The opportunity for us is to be balanced. You can say what you want about this government but I think it’s our job to take on the government only and when we have a story . . . . Given all these pressures from advertisers and governments, I think I can say even from my experience in the past few years that the stronger the government, the more the fake news. The stronger the government the more the pressure. In my experience when you publish something like the Panama papers as we did a couple of years ago, you end up being disliked by advertisers because you have named them and you end up being disliked by a certain section of the readers because they think you have not published enough names.

“If we step back, and think about this space, I think we should appreciate what a privilege we have to shape public discourse, to influence conversations that people have in their homes, to make India a better place to live in, even given our constraints. We should not worry about digital businesses that are being sold off for a billion dollars – we should be competing only with ourselves. Keep in mind that if we keep allowing the widest public to set the agenda, it will only be a race to the bottom.”

Further coverage of the INMA Conference and WAN-IFRA conference in Hyderabad Conference in mid-September will appear on our website and in our October issue. www.indianprinterpublisher.com

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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