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Publishing in the world’s 2nd biggest market: Key trends

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Publishing in India is developing in a significantly different manner compared to the West. While internet access is seeing explosive growth, it has not yet disrupted the print media. In fact, print continues to dominate.

However, low data charges combined with the rapid adoption of smartphones may alter the Indian publishing landscape in the coming years. For now, both traditional and digital media continue to co-exist without cannibalizing each other.

A unique situation

Raghav Bahl, founder of Quintillion Media, an Indian digital journalism and media company, wrote in a Techcrunch column earlier, “Unlike the dramatic decline of the media in the West brought about by smartphones and the internet, the situation in India could not be more different —a country of more than 1.2 billion people—is developing in a distinctly different manner than the West.”

He elaborated further that India presents “a unique situation, in which TV, digital and newspaper are all developing at the same time, unlike in the rest of the world where digital has blown everything else out of the water.”

There is a whole India out there, reading newspapers, watching films or listening to radio in Malayalam, Tamil, and Marathi among a host of languages, a bulk of these is not online. It is embracing digital too, with as much enthusiasm. On revenue, profits and every other parameter, digital is still catching up.

Vanita Kohli Khandekar, India media specialist and author of The Indian Media Business

“Print continues to be dominant”

A report by Magna Global, a media agency owned by IPG Mediabrands, forecasts that print media will continue to be a dominant force in India in 2019. It states that Indian print media ad revenues grew 5.6% in 2018 to Rs 22,121.8 crore and is expected to go up to Rs 22,424.3 crore in 2019.

The report adds that English newspapers facing competition from digital platforms have seen a drop in readership but that has been offset by growth in languages. Overall, readership has grown across age groups establishing print’s dominance, relevance and growth.

This, according to Bahl, is due to the growing literacy and income levels of the Indian population living in the smaller cities and towns of India. “It is this group’s level of social and economic progression more than anything that keeps alive India’s 82,000 newspapers with a total daily circulation of 110 million,” he writes.

Shashi Sinha, CEO of IPG Mediabrands, attributes the continued growth of print to the credibility it offers in this era of fake news. “India is the only market in the world where print continues to be dominant and is growing in all aspects—circulation, readership, and geography. The medium is growing strongly on the back of language, which has led to the growth in the number of language newspapers,” said Sinha to the leading Indian daily, The Economic Times.

A massive uptick in internet traffic

However, the Indian publishing industry may be in for substantial changes in the coming years. India has emerged as a country that provides mobile data at the lowest rates in the world. This, combined with the rapid adoption of smartphones, will lead to exponential growth in content consumption over mobile.

According to Cisco’s 13th annual Visual Networking Index (VNI), a mere 27% of Indians were using smartphones till 2017; this figure is going to jump to 60% or 829 million by 2022.

The report says that the increase in smartphone usage will fuel a massive uptick in internet traffic in the country. It estimates that by 2022, internet networks in India will carry 646 petabytes (1,000 terabytes or 1 million gigabytes) of data per day, which is over 490% higher than the 108 petabytes in 2017.

By 2022, the smartphone data consumption will increase by 5X in India, which proves the dominance of smartphones as the communications hub for social media, video consumption, communications, and business applications, as well as traditional voice.

Sanjay Kaul, Head-Asia Pacific & Japan, Cisco Systems Inc.

Profound implications for the business of news

The 2019 India Digital News Report by Reuters acknowledges the “explosive growth in Internet access, especially mobile, and subsequent increase in digital media consumption across the country.”

According to Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, co-author of the report and Director of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, “Even though broadcast media and printed newspapers are still doing better in India than in many other markets, the rapid move to digital media will have profound implications for the practice of journalism, the business of news, and media institutions.”

Key findings include:

  • 68% of the respondents identified smartphones as their primary device for consuming news.
  • Online news generally (56%), and social media specifically (28%), have outpaced print (16%) as the main source of news among respondents under 35. Those over 35 still mix online and offline media to a greater extent.
  • They largely access news via ‘side-doors’ such as search (32%) and social media (24%), rather than going directly to sources of news (18%).
  • 75% of respondents use Facebook (52% get news there). 82% use WhatsApp (52% get news there).
  • The most widely used online news sources (beyond platforms) are generally the websites of leading legacy media.
  • 36% of the respondents admitted to having low trust in news overall. Interestingly though, they expressed higher levels of trust in news in search (45%) and social media (34%).
  • 31% of those who do not currently pay for online news said they are ‘somewhat likely’ to pay, while 9% said they are ‘very likely’ to.

Interesting revelations, especially about 9% of respondents willing to pay for reading news in digital. This augurs well for the news media industry’s future. If one considers 460 million internet users in India, and even a small percentage of them willing to pay for consuming news digitally, news media companies can take a cue from it.

Magdoom Mohamed, Managing Director, WAN-IFRA, South Asia

The survey was limited to English-speaking, online news users in India. They form a small subset of a larger, more diverse, and very complex media market. The authors of the report acknowledge that the findings cannot be taken to be broadly representative.

However, they add that the findings, “provide useful evidence on how a significant subset of the Indian public engages with news, and provide publishers and others interested in serving this part of the Indian public with important information about current and future trends.”

In conclusion, Nielsen comments, “This will be the end of the era in which Indian news media could expect advertising to more or less alone cover their costs and means that it is critically important that Indian news media develop new, sustainable business models for online news.

“The alternative is structural decline, increased reliance on government advertising, or on subsidies from proprietors, all of which could undermine editorial independence and put professional journalism at risk.”

Click here to download Reuters India Digital News Report, 2019

For a comprehensive overview of the Indian media business, Vanita Kohli Khandekar’s book The Indian Media Business is available here.