“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

The Covid-19 pandemic led to the country-wide lockdown on 25 March 2020. It will be two years tomorrow as I write this. What have we learned in this time? Maybe the meaning of resilience since small companies like us have had to rely on our resources and the forbearance of our employees as we have struggled to produce our trade platforms.

The print and packaging industries have been fortunate, although the commercial printing industry is still to recover. We have learned more about the digital transformation that affects commercial printing and packaging. Ultimately digital 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.

Web analytics show that we now have readership in North America and Europe amongst the 90 countries where our five platforms reach. Our traffic which more than doubled in 2020, has at times gone up by another 50% in 2021. And advertising which had fallen to pieces in 2020 and 2021, has started its return since January 2022.

As the economy approaches real growth with unevenness and shortages a given, we are looking forward to the PrintPack India exhibition in Greater Noida. We are again appointed to produce the Show Daily on all five days of the show from 26 to 30 May 2022.

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– Naresh Khanna

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