News will survive!

Conversation – Gyan Gupta of

Gyan Gupta, former chief executive officer of DB Digital has gone on to become the founder of startup
Gyan Gupta, former chief executive officer of DB Digital has gone on to become the founder of startup

We recently met Gyan Gupta, the former chief executive officer of DB digital, who in the past year has gone on to build his own start-up called Chamko. Gupta was associated with Dainik Bhaskar’s DB Digital for more than 8 years when we met him last year during the INMA study tour. At the time, he shared insights to the software development the company was doing using artificial intelligence (AI) for its news websites. Although his current project is not about news media, our idea was to query him about the newspaper industry’s digital transition from a data scientist’s point of view.

Asked about the future of Indian newspapers, Gupta says, “Newspapers per se will not go. A few companies will survive but I cannot say which these will be. I cannot also say in which form they will survive. It could be in digital form or in both print and digital. It is a bit difficult to say. However, I don’t think that they can keep giving digital news free of cost to the reader.

“The publishers need to think about how to make users pay for news on digital platforms. They need to find out – what is the kind of content that a user would consume? And what kind of content would the user pay for? Then what percentage of the users will actually pay? Finally, what kind of value would advertisers get from digital readers or users? It’s almost obvious that the content has to be compelling and habit-forming, almost addictive – but not all content qualifies. For instance, readers are willing to take digital subscriptions for the New York Times but not for USA Today.”

At the same time, Gupta says that publishers need to understand that digital advertisers can get a lot of value from the demographics and user data that they can slice, dice and deliver. The problem here is for the news media to be able to first use these demographics and data to give users what they want to consume. Next, they need to provide the relevant analytics for advertisers to realize value from the various aspects of the demographics.

Looking at the larger picture

Gupta believes that the Indian news media needs to look beyond their own day to day publication issues or simply local competition. Publishers should set aside their individual differences and get together. The Indian Digital News Publishers Association (DNPA), which was started last year by about 10 founding news media members, was an attempt in that direction. “You have to look at the larger picture, down the years into the future. There are so many issues such as the quality of journalism or fake news. It is a bit difficult because earlier the competition was with local players and now the competition is with global players. Technology is a different theater and it is a huge differentiator. Just look at the cost of optimizing one video player. How do you optimize it and spend time and money on that. The association should think in that direction. On the other hand, lots of things are possible in Europe because the publishers are able to come together and discuss these things.”

AI engine captures reader interests

Gupta says it is not impossible to build technology that will work for Indian news media, even in the face of large global players. “At DB Digital, we were able to build an engine that was able to point users to what they wanted. It was an intuitive relevance engine depending on what you were reading and your interests were. To that degree it was able to capture your interests. In a way it was able to pinpoint to the reader.

“However, too much personalization becomes a bias. One of the challenges with AI is that it has an inherent bias. The whole advantage of the printed newspaper was discovery, and readers love surprises as they turn from page to page. I think that is a factor that has to be kept in mind – a balance is needed. Otherwise personalization could be dangerously inward and self-limiting.

“Moreover, to take these developments further, you need to keep building on the network. AI is something that can be used to build tools to deliver stories that will hook the reader. And they will only pay you if they are addicted! The idea is to first get the reader addicted to the content and then bring in the personalization or customization aspects.”
According to Gupta, technology development is not inexpensive and it requires serious long-term investment. “The cost is high. First the technical personnel and the data scientists are relatively expensive. Then the hardware, software, network and server costs are high because a lot of computing is needed even to find one article. Data costs are themselves fairly high.”

Control over content

We discussed the increasing number of technology players who are combining media and entertainment content and also providing the distribution channels. Increasingly content is also owned by the network service providers. Gupta says that the issue here is not simply content but that the global technology giants control the distribution. “When distribution becomes more important than the content, it starts dictating the content and when this is controlled by the technology players, it becomes a dangerous game. Leave aside the business model; in the past the publisher has always had control and with the new technology this has now slipped away to the technology providers and aggregators. Unfortunately, the network has become more important. The Indian publishers should get together to more forcefully present their interests as far as the terms of engagement.”

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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  1. News will survive, but as someone said at the WAN-IFRA Conference last year in Chennai, the honeymoon with advertising is over. Especially with the abundance of display ads in print. Advertising communication is itself evolving and the honeymoon with easy growth for Indian newspaper is also ending.


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