The INMA South Asia Conference on 12 & 13 August 2021

Quick review – Good technology discussion puts people first

Robert Whitehead of INMA reviews the various Goggle compensation cases or negotiations in progress around the world.
Robert Whitehead of INMA reviews the various Google compensation cases or negotiations in progress around the world.

The INMA South Asia Conference that took place on the afternoons and evenings of 12 and 13 August was, in the most part, beneficial. It presented some excellent expert presentations together with mostly solid panels of Indian news media talkers and doers. Earl Wilkinson′s opening round-up recited the pandemic era accomplishments of an organization that has had to reinvent itself to remain relevant and has done that remarkably well.

From his recitation, you get a feeling of the tremendous energy expended by INMA to continue discussing most of the relevant, transformative issues of an industry besieged by long-term decline and the need for reinvention. It is not easy to do this globally for an industry whose very raison d’etre is the real-time tension of local geography, politics, and social issues. Nevertheless, Wilkinson is always concerned by the industry’s economic survival or adaptability, and INMA’s work on monetizing digital and digital subscriptions in the pandemic has likely helped its varied and far-flung members.

We hope to write more in detail about the event in the coming days, but I would only like to comment on some of the sessions briefly. The review session by Robert Whitehead of INMA on the news media’s fight for compensation for content from Google was excellent, highlighting the cases in process worldwide and the strategies adopted. The Australian settlement, more or less forced by the Australian government, used the method of imposing a forced time-bound agreement to terms and has been the most lucrative so far for that country’s media. Significantly, Google has been trying to sell its Google Showcase around the world to get as many media brands in each country to agree to terms. This campaign can easily be seen as a way of pleading that there is no need for government intervention which, as in Australia, could wind up being more costly for the tech giant.

Artificial intelligence is created by humans too

The session by Rishad Tobaccowala was also outstanding. It suggested that we need to be people-centric, have some self-belief and creativity in our products – that human intelligence will generally, if not always, trump artificial intelligence. Saying that artificial intelligence mainly relies on historical data, he asserted that an individual or organization could decode and deconstruct technology sufficiently to empower herself or itself.

The people-centric and demystified data science technology theme was echoed over the two afternoons by some expert and Indian news media panels. Ritu Kapur said that there had been an attrition of young resources cultivated and nurtured by The Quint in the pandemic. Still, she has discovered that the more ordinary folk can do extraordinary work. Expensive and unaffordable software licenses have lapsed and been replaced by more straightforward and cheaper options. She expressed concern about the emotional anguish of the pandemic and the well-being of our resources as we endure and emerge from the pandemic.

The human learnings and the concern for journalists’ well-being were echoed and reinforced by other senior new media leadership panelists. Another excellent panel shared the experience of The Hindu group and the Indian Express group in building their subscription models.  

In the tech discussions that touched on the privacy laws in Europe, there was no formal discussion of the recent Pegasus hacks against journalists, citizens, and others. However, when questioned by one of the several hundred (perhaps as many as 800) participants, the expert speaker on the Google negotiations suggested it may be a valid topic – ’a good question.’ 

The praised by its member speakers, INMA somewhat ingenuously says it is not a lobbying organization (particularly about the Google compensation discussions). However, it should have the courage to discuss journalist’s and citizens’ privacy and protection of sources.

Another takeaway from the INMA South Asia conference was the optimism of several news media owners or senior management that circulations and advertising would return to pre-Covid pandemic levels. However, one only hopes that this optimism does not blind them to the need for qualitative improvement and content differentiation that could drive digital revenues. 

In this context, the strategic understanding of the technical speaker from The Hindu who has led its digital subscription efforts was remarkable. He said something like, “Even if we (The Hindu) can monetize just 2% to 5% of the millions of visitors to our website, we will be in a good place.”

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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