Don’t get too excited about the internet in India. Looking at current numbers, and I think the 60 million ‘regular’ users figure is bunkum, there are only six million broadband connections in this country, of which I guess only a million or so are with connected ‘digital natives’ such as myself who shamelessly hog bandwidth. Yes, and I also consume a lot of my media needs online, but I still take a newspaper with me to the bog. I still manage (somehow) to read ET’s shameless flogging of their TV channel every morning.
And I still manage to read a few magazines every week. The only tragedy in my multimedia life is that I have really cut back on my book consumption, though I recently finished off Mario Vargas Llosa’s The Bad Girl and will reaffirm that Llosa is the best contemporary Latin American writer (if you haven’t read The War at the End of the World or The Feast of the Goat you are missing out on something). That is the tragedy of following cricket games with ball-by-ball online commentary, reading over 200 feeds everyday ranging from the innocuous to the humourous to the downright salacious. Hey, one has to follow the underbelly of the internet – and my god, Indians love posting videos of themselves having sex online, really bizarre some of the stuff you come across.
Anyway, the point I’m trying to make is simple. In the west, the internet is killing the media. Well, not the internet per se, but the fact that the net has made it possible to read news not on dead trees but of a multitude of devices. News that can now technically geo-locate you (on your mobile) and deliver news customized to your exact location. Next time you’re stuck in a lift, you will get a news alert of being stuck on a lift thanks to your phone (the fact that GPS signals aren’t available on an elevator is a ‘minor’ technical issue which I will, like most journalists disregard). When it comes to TV, what better way than have a ‘Create Your Own Anchor’ sort of app, that will save us from phenomena such as Super-Anchor-Man on Times Now and Weepy Wonder Woman on UndieTV.
Technically all this is possible, but the connectivity numbers just do not add up. I am a big fan of social media and use it aggressively, but hearing some numbers make me wonder, Rs 75 crore industry, for christs sake. And some so-called evangelists talking stuff on how citizen journalism is the future. I am not a cynical journalist bemoaning the rise of the internet, far from it. This blog has been around for six years almost and in the four years since I installed Statcounter, it has over 500,000 views. Big deal! The thing is that a lot of online ‘citizen news’ sites in India tread dangerously on copyright laws, and are little more than rehashes of what is said in the Times of India. As for Twitter and 26/11, I was using it (Yes, I tweet too but not as K), and most of it were either ultra-nationalistic opinions by foreign desis or paraphrases of what was being said by Barkha or Arnab, along with a lot of bitching about Barkha.
The internet is still a medium of the elite in India, many people might have occasional access to it but unless and until the auctions for new spectrum happen, nothing is going to change. Even if that comes through, the government’s greed, rather its potential to spend will mean that the prices demanded at the auction will be so high so as to keep internet access a privilege of the rich. This might have some of us worried, but not all of us and might actually pose bigger problems for television rather than print. Some people are talking about e-readers being used in India – a $249 product to read news. You kidding me? An annual subscription to paper will not cross Rs 1000 in India. A bunch of premium news channels will set you back barely Rs 20 a month.
You get the news you pay for, and frankly we pay next to nothing for news in India. Raise prices and the busybodies who complain about quality get righteous. The last time the news magazines raised cover prices Rs 5, a mail went around accusing them of taking advantage of the reader (though I suspect this came from Ponytail’s magazine). And circulation dropped. If a news channel went from ‘free’ to ‘pay’ viewership drops. People have spoken about micropayments, and how they work in India, but you expect me to believe that someone will pay Rs 2 for a story even though he or she doesn’t care about spending that kind of money on every Vodafone spam message contest which the company kindly texts you five times a day. Nope.
That said, the newspaper ain’t dying anytime soon in India. Nor is the news channel, even though their profligate ways might mean that some die. The magazine on the other hand…
PS: If you folks have been wondering why the radio silence, I am not under gag orders (from either my dad, my step-dad, my boss, my big boss or my ex-boss), it has just been that my new boss has just piled me under with work. I guess idle thumbs make for an active blogger, and I can write this post only because I’ve got down time between my story and reading the proof while waiting to leave and go watch HP6, even though the NYT review wasn’t encouraging. I will also go watch the news Transformers movie, but that is because of Megan Fox and the FX.
PPS: A little birdie informs me that one big-time (ex maybe) journo on Twitter, an avowed Luddite dicates his Tweets to someone who Tweets them. Somehow that is just so cool…