Saturday, September 09, 2006

Print and the internet, more thoughts...

Some days ago, I had made a post questioning the survivability of the print media in the age of the internet. Now, after discussing the issue with some some people a bit higher up than me in the profession, I find myself facing a dilemma.
I still do not doubt that some tradional fo4rms of money-spinning activities for nerwspapers will end - Classifieds are changing and papers which are heavily dependant on Classifieds will have to change their delivery models. Yet, people like Naukri and Shaadi have already taken a huge lead and matching them will not be easy.
Now, the main contentions of the people I spoke with are based on one critical assumption. English is booming, and while readership surveys show how vernacular papers have grown dramatically, they belie the fact that there has been major consolidation in the vernacular newspaper industry. Quite the opposite of what has happened in English. The last 24 months, rather the last twelve months has seen a massive boom in the number of English media in India. Just look at Bombay, from having one massively dominant English paper, it has four newspapers with readership exceeding 2.5 lakh today. English paper readership in that city has more than doubled.
Of course, this is all true if we take the readership surveys seriously, because honestly speaking they are rather sillily conducted - and the extrapolations are very weird. But still, it does give an indicative idea of what is going on. And what makes these surveys fun is when you start drilling down. For example, while absolute numbers might have shown a decline, simply because number of readers 'per issue' tumbles, per issue sales might shoot up. And then there is the 'borrowed copy' concept - in one particular publication, 60 per cent of its readers read 'borrowed copies', which is quite a dubious stat if you ask me. But fair enough, stats can be drilled this way or that. But end of the day, readership has gone up on the whole.
Now, the internet (thanks, Shaym for replying). While people consume news online, many sites see selective viewing by readers, when they visit a site, few readers spend more than say 20 minutes. Stickiness is an issue. And this does not address the main concern of monetizing the web surfer. I could, possibly (actually very easily) know that surfer from IP address XXX.XXX.XXX.XXX is a 20-something male based on the profile of stories he views on the site network. I could even know more if I make a site registration enabled, and to make sure I get accurate data, I throw in a prize or something or a lucky draw once a week for all registered users. Even then, I have cover the costs of the prize (minimal), net servers (cheap) etc. Fair enough, the internjet is cheap, far cheaper to run than the massive distribution costs of the physical world. After all, even with a cover price of Rs 10, the magazine I work for easily makes a loss of Rs 25-30 on the printing and distribution front, advertising more than makes up. Yet, despite some limited targeted adverts, I still don't know how the internet can be truly profitable enough to run as a SBU just now.
Anyway, I shouldn't bother myself with all that right now... readership increases and dot-com and all doesn't hide the fact that journalism standards are falling. And good people are in demand especially in the higher echelons.
I've been listening to a lot of nice new music of late, I'll write about that in the next post. Till then, have a great Saturday!

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