The first session of the annual INMA South Asia conference was surprisingly relevant. It’s not as if we haven’t heard these ideas before – but then what is a conversation except the same old stuff, updated, told again in a new way, with a bit more recounting of experience and activity since the last time this happened. In this way, the INMA conference moves the industry, it renews the conversation as some of the experts summarize their consulting efforts in trying to awaken and nudge the individual companies that each behave like slow-moving behemoths of the news media industry forward – toward survival, viability, and ultimately good health.
The discussion of monetization is like a blur of the past five years. It is the puzzle of all the effort it takes to make it happen and all the reasons why it doesn’t – the difficulty of grasping the new digital universe. At the same time, the innovation and transformation experts keep telling us that good journalism is the key – the foundation to increasing revenue – but the implication is that it is not enough – and we also need to do all these new things – data, personalization, Web3.0, engagement, slicing and dicing. Although the three hours of the webinar were a somewhat rapid-fire continuum here are some insights and thoughts that I can recall. (The organizers say that the recordings will be available on Tuesday 16 August.)
Conscience is the essence of intelligence
Juan Señor, the innovation man reiterated something that was said in almost every one of the six half-hour sessions: good journalism is good business. He talked about the points that are in his organization’s latest innovation report – that Web 3.0 is a reality. (This makes the Wan-Ifra Oxford Internet Lab-Pilot collaboration with publishers even more important and applications for this September activity are being accepted.)
Señor said that while a paywall is a necessity, even registration is a good beginning. (In other words, don’t lose heart even if you are far behind – just start anywhere!) “Subscriptions drive your digital advertising but it’s not going to be easy or quick to drive these up. Even the best at it take five years to reach a level of 40% reader subscription revenues.” While a couple of the experts during our afternoon and early evening said positive things about newsletters, Señor noted, “Newsletter is the conversion monster.” Implying that the basis of all monetization is differentiation, he added, “Conscience is the essence of intelligence; listen to your editors, they will make you money!”
South Asia media is working for the advertisers not the readers!
Juan Señor was sharpest in the Q&A which revealed that South Asian publishers have engaged his firm for innovation – itself a positive sign. He was asked about visual storytelling and various types of paywall – metered, freemium, dynamic, and micro-payments. His sharpest advice was to avoid what he described as the South Asian tendency, the strategy of volumes, of too much content compulsively chasing everything. “South Asia [news media] is working for the advertisers, not the readers. The attempt should be to develop two-rhythm newsrooms that have both speed and depth – in-depth will make you money. Make your website a destination, don’t co-exist with aggregators. Think of print as a product of analysis and insight – a premium product. Do big stories that are lean back reads.”
Progress, encouragement and solutions
The other sessions including the panel moderated by Vanita Kolhi Khandekar with speakers from leading Indian media legacy and digital first organizations were interesting because they updated us on the slow but sure progress of the big fat Indian news media. Their subscription numbers mentioned by one of the panelists were heartening and the discussion of their video offerings was useful. Talk ranged from short form and long-form video to slicing and dicing the consumer base to monetizing live video at a higher level. Micro-payments are akin to shampoo sachets. Among the possible insights was that legacy media is or was inherently more profitable than digital – the implication being that digital is harder work.
Dolly Jha of Neilsen was especially good in showing the old surveys (because new surveys have not been done) apart from one smaller recent survey that her company has done that demonstrates the power of print. “Publishers must lever the power of print in driving trust,” she asserted, showing data in which – “Print is actually coming out loud and tall on trust in research and the empirical data reinforces the positives.” She suggested that print needs to rebuild its connect with the ecosystem with an advisory council meeting with advertisers once every four months, or at least once in six months. “Don’t shy away from measurement,” she said, urging the news publishers to revive the pre-Covid-19 measurement research.
The three other presentations were clever mixes of information and sales talks. Nevertheless, they are useful, as they provide specific solutions rather than just ideas. And everyone knows that most of the publishers if they are at all tuning in, prefer technical solutions to knowledge. Moreover, the complexity of the ever-changing news business ecosystem requires investment in talent and change management.
As one of the speakers said, ‘Everyone in the news media organization needs to be involved in the data.” And as INMA’s Earl Wilkinson said in his opening keynote, “Don’t worry, no one has got it completely right, not even The New York Times.”
(Slightly corrected for style errors on 13 August 2022, 12.34 pm. Again corrected on 17 August 2022 for wrong spelling of a last name.)