Wednesday, July 22, 2009


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...

Monday, July 20, 2009

Weird things...

This is not a random piece of bitchy nothingness, but a piece of random life story...
The last few months have involved a fair amount of work, with a smattering of travel thrown in coupled with good food and lots of beer. But honestly, there has been a lot of work. I don't recall working so hard in the recent past. It made me realise that blog productivity was more of less inversely proportional to 'actual work', even though that really isn't fair. Sometimes I am too lazy to do either. And here is the even weirder thing, I might crib about the work in an occasional post, but I am really enjoying it because I'm doing things I like doing. Sure, the fact that I have my iPod on virtually all the time helps - this is why I love the new Shuffle with its insane battery life - but the work has been interesting.
But back to the point, my Editor told me today morning that on Friday I will have to do something that I have always wanted to. No, not bang a supermodel on an atoll in the Pacific. But something I have really wanted to do, well to be more specific one of those things that I believe made me want to become a journalist, at least in my particular silo any which way. And you what? Right now, I am felling mighty happy that I didn't quit, even though I have both my fingers and my toes crossed. I really, really, really want this to happen.
That said, the most entertaining though to do nowadays is to interview Ministers, the sheer entertainment value of print interviews sometimes is mind-boggling. Yeh mat likho, magar... Chapne ke liye nahin, but... and all this happily carrying on while my recorder isn't paused. I don't know what it is, but a phone recorder - I record on a Nokia N97 right now (more on the phone some other time) - disarms people. Plus I don't have to deal insane proprietary software formats nor do I need to install software just to retrieve the file. Well, a phone recorder and the lack of a television camera. You know, what is funny, I have two really high profile interviews and both organisations are not giving television slots. This much is certain, if they gave ET Now a slot they would be promoting themselves silly in ToI and ET and maybe even carry a double-spread with both these guys.
The downside is that I have to transcribe, I don't outsource because I'm slightly paranoid, but then again, it shouldn't matter.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Internet Shinternet

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…

Monday, July 13, 2009


I liked the latest iteration of HT, this is the 'fourth' look of HT in the past decade but this new Guardian-esque redesign does seem to have a lot going for it. Still next to no business coverage and alarmingly little coverage on several other areas, but HT is the best looking paper in town. At least for the time being. The problem with any design, as layout artists will tell you is maintaining the design. And the problem there is that reporters, who have little clue of the english language to start with have next to no understanding of design. To work to a design (rather than a word-count) is a fact of life for many of us, it makes life rather unbearable when you have to juggle bits and pieces of your story around but a 'pretty' looking story might just get read in a mainstream publication rather than a dull one. So nice redesign, but why on earth do you still have the silly front-page 'shoulder' advert, and now to work on content.
A few friends often lament the death of long form (there is The Hindu, but extreme communism is no-one's cup of tea) in mainstream publications in India. Well, there never was a New Yorker or its ilk in India (Harper's Magazine, The Atlantic et al.) and that is tragic, but that just says more about the population at large (we are already an Idiotcracy if not very far from being one) than anything else. That said, ToI is still on-course to launch a 'thinking' paper soon. Given that the last launch from Bennett was ET Now which I feel is in danger of believing its own hype about its greatness - why did they go overboard on Nusli Wadia for crying out loud, and I will reserve my comments on the quality of the interview. Anyway, I'm not sure if I want long-form from the ToI, and even less sure if it will work, but maybe it will. Don't get enthusiastic and think that India needs a long-form magazine now, readers here are too cheap to pay, only grade-A morons like me end up spending a bomb on magazines and papers.
Now back to work and figuring out how to figure something out.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Boojet 2009

No, I will not bore you with incredulous stories of how the government will be taxing your potty now. I started getting ET Now on Airtel DTH yesterday so today morning because I kinda got heldf up, I thought, might as well watch the budget at home than in office or some large conference hall. After all, I do have a halfway-decent LCD panel (grumble, grumble - duties have come down, though it really wouldn't have hit the price that much). Anyway, this much is for certain, CNBC-TV18 landed one helluva' blow with their first wave of guests - Uday Kotak, Deepak Parekh and KV Kamath. And ET Now had Arnab Goswami talking (versus Mitali, is that even fair competition - why Arnab? Why not Andy, Abheek or Sri? They sound a lot less shrill). Guess who won the battle for the remote in the first wave. ET Now's guests were so-so and the other channels were lost in the water. Don't get me wrong, I do like what I have seen on ET Now until now, but today was the battle of the channels. And while the evening shows might be different, and you do watch the business channels in the evening on a day like today, I will be 35,000 feet in the air during prime-time. Not that I think that I'll be missing much, though a good bitch-fest is always fun!

Friday, July 03, 2009


Yes, I know that Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code has been sort of declared unconstitutional, I mean sort of because Delhi's higher court is yet to review it. I also know that this means that everyone can finally get blow-jobs legally (how come no-one wrote about that?) after not all sex involves penetration of a hole at the bottom of your torso. The point being that why on earth did everyone go so frikkin' beserk over it in the media (one internal mail in a TV channel had the lovely term 'gayism' in the context - "we should cover all aspects of 'gayism'" - never knew that it was a '-ism' until now). Seeing the wall-to-wall coverage made it seem like that Gay guys would go around buggering each having in public (the cops will still frown on public displays of affection - and I wonder how on earth they will amend Section 375) , and the insanity of the coverage made homophobes even more stringent in their opposition. Primarily because much of the coverage was silly and anchored by illiterate idiots most of the time - Times Now comes to mind first and foremost. And if you wanted to see homophobia in full flight (other than Baba Ramdev promising to cure homosexuality through Yoga!), the language news channels were there with their versions of craziness. It was a pity that Dinara safina did not give Venus Williams as strong a challenge as Elena Dementieva gave Serena Williams, at least I could have watched Winbledon for a while longer. Watching news TV was hellish yesterday. And what is worse we are now heading into the budget madness on TV.
PS: I still don't get ET Now - anyone listening? Talking of which PR people have interesting stories, but more on that later.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

The end of journalism, Mr Narisetti?

While the news sites and TV channels are all overjoyed with the Section 377 ruling - I refer you back to a blog post I wrote a long, long time ago. Anyway, while I applaud the Delhi High Court, which at times seems to me to be the only sensible HC in India, I am yet to read the details of the case. talking about stuff I wrote a long time, there is this post about us Indians being more racist than most.
Anyway, this post is about something I read about Raju's new employers that left me feeling a bit shaken. (EDIT: WaPo has their ill-thought out plan off, hope no-one at Times Group got wind of it) One can argue that such things have been happening in ndia for a while, but never 'officially'. Sure, sometimes the editor-proprietor, and we know that the line has been very blurred for a while, has used his 'access' to parley favours for friends. But this is akin to MediaNet and whatever the other news organisations call their equivalent organisations charging for access to ministers and the like. Imagine, The Hindu charging for access to MMS, since their old Delhi CoB is now the Media Advisor to the PM. This is like that.
In other news on the media front, while a bunch of people have been removed at News X, some decent people among them whose fault was to align with the old powers that be (even though that was an incredibly stupid thing to do, if you ask me personally), there are people being hired as well. We hear that PGT, long relegated to Lok Sabha TV will be making a Prime-Time talk show return when the channel is rebranded. I really must stop watching news TV completely now, why can't tennis be a year-round sport. And talking about Tennis, here is an open letter...
"Dear Star Sports,
I do not wish or want to watch Sania, Bhupati or Leander Paes play pointless Doubles games when there is a Federer, Nadal, Djokovic or Murray game on. I will be willing to pay you for that. Yes, I realise that I am paying Airtel a lot for bandwidth and can actually watch the games online thanks to some kind soul somewhere in the world streaming the match. But I would much prefer a decent TV stream anyday. I bought a bad-ass 40-inch panel to watch increasing amounts of live sports. I would li9ke to meet the head of your Tennis programming and whack him over the head with a racket. Preferably a very tightly-strung one. This is why I wish that our players lose Doubles rather fast. At least this year, they didn't disappoint me.
Yours Truly,
PS: Weird no, all the Eastern European chiklets got all the Press, but the two Williams' are playing the Womens finals!