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Why India Still Believes In The Printed Word

Print’s advantage over digital.

30/07/2017 11:02 AM IST | Updated 30/07/2017 11:23 AM IST
Jayanta Dey / Reuters

Digital technology and its various applications have seeped deep into human society. Once perceived as a burgeoning new tool, it is fast becoming a necessity. Socio-cultural patterns have evolved manifold. There is an explosion of content and a corresponding increase in its consumption. For instance, users upload 400 hours of new video each minute of every day on YouTube. Amidst the infinite abundance of digital content, one cannot help but think about the existence of this world prior to the ingress of digital. Does old-school still appeal to the masses? Further, does it even stand a chance?

An exponentially growing online medium indicates that print is meeting its waterloo. It poses an existential crisis and a hard-hitting question on the relevance of print media. Will digital devour print? While there are many who believe digital will lead the way, there is more to this than meets the eye.

A recent survey by the Audit Bureau of Circulation, suggests that print in India saw a 4.87% increase in CAGR (compound annual growth rate) over a 10-year period.

In 2012, the 80-year old Newsweek announced to the world that it would shut down its print edition, and move to digital-only. This perhaps captures the zeitgeist of the current world we live in—or does it? A recent survey by the Audit Bureau of Circulation, suggests that print in India saw a 4.87% increase in CAGR (compound annual growth rate) over a 10-year period. And some believe that the best is yet to come.

Several reasons could be attributed to the stronghold of traditional media in a diverse economy like India—the key contributing element being the very diversity itself. The multitude of regions and cultures has prompted a growth of regional language newspapers. The same survey shows that Hindi language dailies were the highest in circulation at 22 million copies per day. No surprises there.

Another differentiator for the print medium is its ability to provide a local edge for advertisers. Reaching out to regional audiences is imperative in a market as fragmented as India. Hyperlocalisation is, therefore, a significant propellant for the business of print—and the papers that are growing are those that are doing more of this. One cannot also completely ignore the comfort of cost that print offers. While advertising over radio holds its ground, and while digital is becoming a very real option for marketers, the undisputed power of print still makes it the first go-to option. Simply put, the printed word remains the gospel truth, at least here in India.

Hyperlocalisation is a significant propellant for the business of print—and the papers that are growing are those that are doing more of this.

Another reason why print won't go out of fashion is the access and affordability it offers. A doorstep delivery, as opposed to self-help in the West, makes the newspaper a permanent fixture in an individual's life, and not one s/he's willing to let go of. With increasing literacy levels, adoption of newspapers will only move northwards. And as infrastructure improves, newspapers will find their way into smaller towns and villages, thus further growing their numbers and reader base. Again, hyperlocalisation and a resolute focus on the reader are assumed.

In India, people turn to print not only to stay updated on current affairs but also to enhance their knowledge. The way print is consumed varies greatly across different demographics. For decades, a vast populace realising the opportunities that proficiency in the English language opens up, turned to their humble daily newspaper to improve their language skills. Indian parents also place a lot of emphasis on their children reading the daily news to broaden their general knowledge.

This is not to undermine the power of digital, or the options it offers—not only in terms of content creation but also curation and consumption. It is to only offer an unbiased, factual view of the quintessential Indian consumer and his or her relationship with the morning paper. And if the numbers are anything to go by, s/he isn't ready to call it off—at least not yet.

What print needs to do today to stay relevant is reaffirm and focus on its raison d'être. And this has always been delivering genuine and credible news to readers.

For print to thrive in this chaos that it finds itself in, it will need to remain relevant to the Indian consumer, and connect with him or her at a deeper level. The blueprint doesn't change—after all, global influencers like Oprah Winfrey built flourishing, multi-category empires in a pre-digital era, on the back of this one rule: to always resonate with readers.

What print needs to do today to stay relevant is reaffirm and focus on its raison d'être. And this has always been delivering genuine and credible news to readers. Real on-the-ground reportage, journalists who persevere, sometimes withstanding death threats to uncover the hard truth and present analysis that is thought provoking and unbiased. I firmly believe that if print truly understands why it originally became a habit and a daily necessity in the readers' daily lives, it will never go out of fashion!

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