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.