Yesterday, I spent some time with the publisher of a small-circulation newspaper and we were discussing the internet, distribution and content. Earlier, that day I had spent some time with a consultant talking of future media trends and we spent a long time talking of the Kindle ‘distribution’ model, and the aftermath of that in the light of Amazon’s draconian DRM policies (ironically with Orwell).
Anyway, even though there were some heated discussions with some other people in the room – particularly about journalism and bylines getting devalued, I argued that journalism and bylines got devalued the instant newspapers started to play the ‘price game’ and consumers fell for it. Now, they fall for free shoes and what not, even though newspapers are drastically cutting back on circulation. There is a feeling that the English language press, no make that, the English language media has seen its short golden age ~ 2006-2008.
So what is the new business model that we spoke about, that I also feel might just work? Low-circulation, but free. Sounds crazy, but guess what most lifestyle magazines do, exactly that. Fewer and fewer copies make it onto general stands other than the giant stands – in Delhi these would be in Khan Market, Connaught Place and Def Col. News-stand sales drop down even further as companies don’t want raddi. It also works from an advertising perspective – tell people that these are our 25,000 readers nationwide. New readers are occasionally added by a process of selection. Surrender the bulk of the market to ToI and differentiate. If magazines can pull it off, FHM India has an incredibly small print-run and I believe that Media Trans-Asia is trying to emulate that with Maxim and their other publications as well.
No matter how hard ToI tries, and they are trying, they will always be a mass-market middle-class product and the middle-classes can never be high-brow. Sorry, if this sounds snobbish, and believe me when I say that I read ToI first every morning but that is essentially trying to figure out what on earth is going on in the country and the city. The problem is that being mass has mass costs and increasingly, as mass papers are discovering in the West, those costs will become unsustainable. Especially since, the ‘cover price’ never did cover costs in India, and the ET Now ads are free right?
TV is free already, the problem with TV is slightly different, the only channel that has any sense of gravitas is Undie 24x7, even with the tear-jerking. I’m sorry that RajdeepTV doesn’t but with the wife on air, it never will. But UndieTV is in such financial turmoil, the accounts make for painful reading even for journalists and executives in other media companies. But, I still feel that ubiquitous camera-equipped personal devices coupled with 3G and Wireless Broadband is going to lead to utter chaos in television. Even though, I more skeptical of ‘citizen journalism’ than most.
Yet, while I feel all of this, and believe me this will all play out in my lifetime as a journalist, I still feel that the byline will have some value. I have no clue how much value, but it will still retain something. As The Admiral told me, not everyone can fly every major fighter jet, only air force officers and journalists can.
EDIT: Four years since I stalled the Statcounter code, I've crossed 500,000 page views, not bad. Should monetize but too lazy...