Publications transitioning to digital, fresh cause for worry for print?

With Diligent Media shutting down the print edition of its English daily DNA and deciding to go digital-only, questions are arising again regarding print media’s fate in India. It may be recalled that in June this year, Network18’s newspaper Firstpost, launched in January 2019, had also shut its print edition and went digital-only. IRS 2019 Q2 data has also highlighted that consumption of news on digital platforms is on the rise. As per IRS 2019 Q2 data, 6.1 per cent of people read newspaper online in L1M (last one month), compared to 4.4 per cent in 2017. Any online news consumption in L1M was also up at 15.1 per cent as per IRS 2019 Q2 data, from 9.0 per cent in 2017.

Sanjay Trehan
Sanjay Trehan

Millennials are used to getting news quickly and almost in real time on their devices rather than picking up a newspaper in the morning. Today, social media websites like Twitter and Facebook along with other web pages have become the main sources of news. It goes without saying that digital readership has started making inroads into print readership. As Sanjay Trehan, Digital & New Media Consultant, observed, “There’s significant cannibalisation, especially in view of the fact that the millennials are not, by and large, reading newspapers. The challenge for print is how to convert the millennials into newspaper readers.” 

Every decade or so there is a disruption that happens in terms of technology. When the TV came into the market, questions were raised even then about the future of print and radio. Similarly, before that, the advent of cinema hit the theatre scenario hard. The process continues, with OTT platforms today giving conventional TV a run for its money as millennials are shifting more and more to viewing content anytime, anywhere. 

Globally, too, print has been on a decline, with several venerable print establishments either shutting shop or making a transition to digital, a case in point is Huffington Post. However, survey after survey have pointed out the robustness of the print media in India, even as digital continues its relentless march. Largely led by regional markets, print continues to be relevant for brands as well as readers. Reading newspaper is more of a habit in India, which continues till this day in rural and Tier 2, 3 and 4 markets, where the population would prefer to hold the physical paper in their hands more than reading the news on a digital screen. 

But newspapers need to do more than just bank on certain markets. As Trehan emphasised, “Newspapers with a twist can still be launched. By twist, I mean differentiated content, distinct voice, superior quality and in-depth coverage. But they need to be prepared for some rough weather.” 

Coming to the question of why millennials are not choosing print as a source of their news, the main factor here is the need for quick gratification and real-time news. The millennials are a smart, on-the-move generation, who are well-informed about the subjects they care for. 

Fight for survival 

At the same time, Trehan also pointed out, “Newspapers are still growing, though at a significantly reduced growth rate. With a growing middle class, newspapers will continue to find currency. The challenge is how to get the millennials and the youth into the mainstream habit-forming newspaper reading. Newspapers may need to relook at their format, content mix and distribution.” 

He also stressed on the importance of newspapers rethinking and re-imagining themselves to keep up with the digital era and real-time news. No longer can a newspaper just put out an edition at 6 in the morning and be done with it. “That’s why we see someone like The Times of India going on the digital front along with other players and also launching an app version of their newspaper. All players today have to go on all the different fronts in order to survive. A particular story can be published in a newspaper along with the digital version of the story, which also has a video or interview attached to it, which can be uploaded on YouTube. Hence, to survive, all these players need to incorporate all the aspect of media into one,” Trehan maintained. 

At the same time, all is not lost for print as there is still time for it to adapt, as it will take some more time for digital revenues to catch up with mainstream media. “Digital revenues are growing at a good pace, but it will take more time to catch up with the mainstream media. We are living in an age of real-time news, where news production has become distributed. Print needs to adapt to this environment,” insisted Trehan. 

According to GroupM’s advertising expenditure forecasts for 2019, print is estimated to grow by 2.2 per cent, while the share of print to all media is expected to be at 23 per cent. While both English and regional languages are expected to grow, regional will see a slightly higher growth. Meanwhile, 37 per cent of incremental ad spends will go towards digital advertising this year, including mobile. 

As per Madison Advertising Outlook Report 2019, print’s adex is expected to reach Rs 20,429 crore this year, even as its share of media remains at 30 per cent. 

Brand reactions

Krishnarao S Buddha
Krishnarao S Buddha

What do brands think about publications shutting down print editions and transitioning to digital? Krishnarao S Buddha, Senior Category Head - Marketing, Parle Products, said, “For us, TV is the main media through which we reach out to our audiences, with 80-85 per cent of our spends on TV. Another way for us to create engagement is the digital front, especially with data prices reducing and availability of low cost smartphones. I would prefer to launch a digital film or a TVC rather than putting up plain banners on the digital version of a publication like DNA. We would prefer a video storytelling format to engage with the consumer.”




Karan Kumar
Karan Kumar

On the other hand, Karan Kumar, Chief Brand and Marketing Officer, Fab India, noted, “Content is consumed in different ways. While some prefer hard copies, there are those who prefer digital platforms. News and OTT content can exist mutually. I don’t have any issue advertising in a news portal online. I don’t see them cannibalising the other digital platforms or vice versa.” 

Regardless of the rapid march of digital, print has remained relevant across the world, while in India, it continues to thrive, driven by the population in the smaller markets, which also remains highlight aspirational. Will developments like a DNA here and Firstpost there shutting down print editions be cause for worry for the industry? Not yet.


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