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Indian publishers see need to increase multilingual digital efforts

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Indian publishers see need to increase multilingual digital efforts

However this has not been the case when it comes to digital media. Most of the prominent digital news publishers seem to have concentrated on the English-speaking population so far. 

But that may be changing and it was one of the main points discussed by The Quint’s Chief Editor and CEO, Ritu Kapur, and Navaneeth L V, CEO, The Hindu Group, in February during their fireside chat at Digital Media India 2020. 

Kapur noted that according to a KPMG survey, by 2030 the digital consumer is going to be non-English speaking, mobile-phone using and willing to pay for content online. Navaneeth observed that it’s not far from the truth today. 

“If you look at the consumption of English-language newspapers vs regional, the sum total of regional is far higher than that of English,” said Navaneeth, and added that when it comes to the audience being mobile first, this is already being seen in India. 

A shift in business model

He also noted that the pivot that can push the consumer to pay for news has to come from the business models of the media houses that believe their content is worth paying for. In a country where publishing is a very old business, historically the business models of most media houses have been based on advertising revenue.

Take the case of The Hindu itself. The 142-year-old brand publishes one of the most expensive newspapers (for readers) in the country, but despite that, its business model has been built on ad-revenues. The same philosophy was carried over to digital until recently when The Hindu became the first mainstream news media company to put its digital content behind a paywall.

Kapur however wondered what the customer would pay for and why, given that there were quite a few English-language publishers in India, and therefore, the potential of duplication of content. 

“They say that even in the best paid-model countries like Norway, people are largely paying for one news service, and that it’s basically a space where ‘winner takes it all,’” she pointed out.

Navaneeth disagreed, noting that in countries like the US, readers were paying for more than one service, say The New York Times and The Washington Post, going by the genres. According to him given the abundance of news, what people would pay for is “views.”

“You can see a mushrooming of small digital-first enterprising organisations in the views space. If you are able to make sense of news and craft it into views that matter to people, people will be willing to pay for that. People will not pay for a parity product, because a parity product is available for free otherwise also,” he said.

Kapur however felt that eventually audiences would gravitate towards and pay for the product that has a unique offering with a distinct voice and that provides news. “My view is that it will also be about opinion, but it will be about people who go and get the news – the news gatherers and not just news processors,” she said.

Aiming to grow digital subscription revenues

“We don't want to build our digital products the way we built our publishing product – with over dependence on advertising. We believe we should build our digital offering based on subscription. All our offerings are behind a paywall – we are the first large publishing house to do that without launching premium services. Today our main product is behind a paywall,” Navaneeth said. 

Digital constituted 5-6 percent of overall revenue, he said. Last year, the company saw 100 percent of its digital revenues coming from advertising. However, Navaneeth hopes that in the next three years about 75 percent of the digital revenues would come from subscriptions. He also expressed hopes that digital would constitute around 25 percent of the overall revenues in the next three years.

“We would like print revenues to stay where they are or marginally grow by single digit – because single digit is what is possible in today’s circumstances. So if print revenue grows by 4-5 percent sequentially over the next 3 years and digital is scaled up to 25 percent of overall revenues, we would be very happy,” he said. 

Need for emphasis on tech, design

Kapur raised the point that there wasn’t enough conversation happening around the role played by tech and design in digital publishing in terms of contributing towards audience and revenue growth. 

“I think we slip behind other parts of the world because of the lack of importance for tech and design. We keep cursing the tyranny of the algorithm, but will not do enough tech to drive audiences to our own platform,” she said.

She cited the example of LiveMint, which went from 3.2 million to 33 million subscribers largely by changing their tech and design. “Content at LiveMint has always been very strong,” she pointed out. 

Navaneeth agreed, and added that it needed to be built into the DNA of organisations and to build these DNAs of old legacy media houses with strong purpose and strong ways of working was almost like changing the flight of an engine mid-air, but something that had to be done. 

Age of transformations

Navaneeth pointed out that fundamentally the media as we know today will undergo a transformation in the coming years. 

“One of the obvious things is that we’ll have to transform from a publishing company to a content company, and we need to have the ability to tell our stories in multiple formats like video and audio. Second, our ambitions are changing because we no longer are limited by the markets we serve. Audience is truly global and we want to have a voice at the global level and have global influence. Third, media will evolve from being high priests of content creators to curators of collaborative content,” he said.

In The Quint’s case, Kapur said, the push to become a mainstream media company came from the audience. “We started off with news for young Indians. We were very millennial, almost cutesy sometimes in the way we crafted our news, and we’ve actually found the audience pushing us towards very solid deep dive investigative ground reporting because that was getting consumed much more.”

Navaneeth said the challenge with digital transformation was far greater for legacy companies where departments work in silos. Kapur, however, felt the potential for legacy media to pivot was tremendous. 

“I strongly believe that a really solid focus on tech and design is where the legacy media is falling short,” she said. “In digital you have to be on your toes always. What worked yesterday will not work tomorrow. With your legacy, brand value and deeper pockets, if you can be as agile, I think the future is actually with legacy.”



Elizabeth Shilpa's picture

Elizabeth Shilpa


2020-05-26 10:20

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