Wan-Ifra India Digital summit – the first-day closing panel

Monetizing reader revenue – strategies for FY 2022-23

Wan-Ifra India Digital summit – the first-day closing panel
Clockwise Wan-Ifra on status of the Indian news media industry, from top left - Ritu Kapur, co-founder, Quint Digital Media, Mukund Padmanabhan, Chairman, WEF India and Srinivasan Balasubramanian, managing director, Vikatan Group

On 8 March 2022, Wan-Ifra closed the opening day of its virtual digital summit with a panel discussion that included Mukund Padmanabhan, chairman of its Worlds Editor Forum for India WEF, Ritu Kapur, the co-founder of Quint Digital Media, and Srinivasan Balasubramanian, the managing director of the Vikatan Group.

The topic discussed in the recently happened Wan-Ifra India Digital Summit was the status of the Indian news media industry and of how to monetize digital readership as a significant revenue stream. In India, very few readers have subscribed to digital news platforms. Niche players are doing better in this respect but when publishers and owners were asked about what are the important issues coming up this year for news media, 79% flagged subscription.

Continuing to the conversation on subscription, Ritu Kapur, co-founder, Quint Digital Media, pointed out that the problem with publishers being advertising revenue dependent was that it put currency of traffic over the quality of journalism. “The key step in building your subscription journey is to start thinking audience-first. Conversions are less likely to happen from the news or deep-dive investigations. Build your non-news buckets to hook users in who will then start engaging with your core content,” she said.

According to Balasubramanian, the Indian subscription pricing scenario is different from the West. “The quantum of an annual subscription package is not overwhelming, rendering monthly packages redundant. Now, we have to start thinking with the prospect of the audience and should encourage the journalists, and also we need to enhance the number of revenue streams that we have,” he said.

Wan-Ifra continues its discussion on Indian news media

Our own observation is that most news media dailies are reluctant to change or adapt their business model to depend on the subscription model even in print, let alone on their digital platforms. It is easier to extract money for advertising on the basis of inflated reach numbers than to provide differentiated content that readers would be willing to pay for. The investments in digital have in main (with notable exceptions) been to present a web version of the printed newspaper with some additional investments but with little investments in data science, analytics and artificial intelligence or web readership monetizing campaigns.

However, there has been some improvement amongst the large Indian daily newspaper groups in their investments in resources and software development for monetizing digital subscriptions in the past two years of the Covid-19 pandemic. So while there is positive movement in this direction and may lead to some breakthroughs may be delayed as the economy recovers and the larger newspapers go back to their fight over print ads. Election and political advertising are also a drug that puts differentiation and digital subscriptions efforts back to sleep. There is hardly any understanding about building engagement with core content. 

As Warren Fernandez pointed out at the start of the first day, the key differentiator for the readers during the pandemic was the trust they placed in the media that fought fake news and disinformation, and this is the card that must be played in order to win paying readers. However the second lesson of his talk suggested that the news media is not an ordinary business ready to be financially milked for any and every opportunity, it needs to be developed as an asset and activity which is a social good. 

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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