I might have spent the last five years of my life writing for two very different formats of the print media but yesterday I spent the entire evening reading the current issues of The Economist cover to cover and the cover story got me thinking. The leader which discusses 'Who Killed the Newspaper' is not as pessimistic as the headline, but the inside story is quite though provoking (both premium content - but if you work in the industry I would suggest you buy this issue) and because I'm also trying to work on/with both the print and online mediums right now, I found it relevant to myself. But I believe it shouldn't be just me, but everybody who works in the medium in India, particularly in the English language medium who is affected by this.
The explosion of TV news channels in India will not kill the newspaper - I honestly believe, and this is from overhearing conversations and TV News is sensational but unreliable, you can't ever believe everything some busty babe throws at you. But a story in the newspaper or a newsmagazine is somehow felt to be more trustworthy, despite what some of us might think - note ToI has trashed EchTee in Delhi according to the latest NRS surveys. But, it is this medium which I use to disseminate information right now which is the circuit breaker. How do you deal with the challenge of the internet - to revenues and readership? The article mentions various ways that several media houses have survived or are tackling the internet, but it goes further. certain media organisations such as the NYT or WP have embraced the internet wholeheartedly even using new internet technologies (RSS Feeds, Podcasting, Vidcasting) as well as their best writers for their online editions.
The article also mentions a gradual shift across the world, and this might agitate some people a lot, towards 'soft' news. Parties, fashion, entertainment, movies and music, that sort of stuff. Therefore, what the ToI is doing is part of a global trend, as is the selling of editorial space. C'mon, it wasn't as idea thought up by Vineet Jain, old Murdoch thought of it first. The Hindu is a rarity, not just in India, increasingly in the world. People it seems don't give a rat's ass about what you and I might think as serious news. Actually, most of the time I don't give a shit also if they're in the papers as well, I have my dedicated feeds coming in at Bloglines. (PS : This blog, through both its XML feeds has over 50 subscribers on Bloglines now)
But even then you face a challenge - advertising. How do you monetize your internet subscribers. Do you depend on Google or other news aggregators to allow users to deep search your site. Do you load your site full of adverts - the Indiatimes model and clutter up the page? But even if you load your page with adverts, should Google - as the media display house in most cases be allowed to keep most of revenues when someone clicks a advert? Look at classifieds - sites like Craigslist have taken away substantial revenues, particularly from smaller papers. Just look at what Naukri and the host of matrimonial sites have done. Despite the papers never admitting to it, I believe the matrimonial sites are hitting them where it hurts and hard, really hard. Just think about it, a web page listing of a matrimonial has a picture, more details than a 4-line, '25/160 Convent educated, outgoing' blah blah blah would have in a Sunday paper crammed with other text.
Then where on earth do you make the money? Fair enough, a publication like mine isn't about to roll over and die tomorrow or even the day after tomorrow, but we have to start thinking of a way to survive online. Profitably! I believe that in five years time, a majority of the population which reads publications such as mine will have access to devices which can access the internet anytime from virtually anwhere. We have to work out a way to copy certain publications across the world which derive a quarter of their revenues (and even more profit) from online ventures. Or else, we will die sooner or later.
Anybody have any idea, I really want to discuss this a bit, but sadly other than very few people (a couple of my senior editors) most people think of this as pfaff! "What is the internet!" they say, treating the internet as a secondary thing (even though the same people would die without Google). I don't think so, if you want to survive, nor should you!