Zenith has predicted a glowing
2019 for India’s journalism
industry: Print ad revenue
is expected to grow by 5
percent in 2018 and by 20
percent next year. Digital ad
revenue is also expected to
increase by 20 percent.
How believable are these numbers? This
past year, readership in India grew by
nearly 11 crore (110 million), according to
the National Readership Survey 2017.
However, as we all know, there is no
“One-Size-Fits-All” solution in news
media. CEOs of leading Indian publishing
houses came together at the WAN-IFRA
India 2018 conference in Hyderabad to
discuss the management of growth in
print, while strategising with other platforms.
On the panel were Nikhil Kanekal (Executive
- Group Strategy) from The Printers
(Mysore), Krishna Prasad (former Editor
in Chief) from Outlook, Samir Patil
(Founder & Publisher) from Scroll and
Rani Reddy (Director - Corporate Affairs)
from Jagati Publications. The discussion
was moderated by Manfred Werfel (Deputy
Indian media is not homogenous;
North differs from south, east from west.
The country’s journalism market extends
beyond the mainstream media to nearly
1,000 newspapers. Rules that apply to
the big players often don’t necessarily
apply to the smaller ones, which are
larger in number.
Here are a few excerpts from the discussion:
Manfred Werfel: To what extent do
you think are the Zenith numbers
Krishna Prasad: India is currently in a
very happy spot with rising print circulation,
even if there is a bit of a blip in
terms of advertising revenue. A five percent
uptick in advertising does not translate
for smaller players down the line.
Tender and appointment advertising are
going down, which affects small newspapers,
especially local language productions.
Mainstream English newspapers see a
flurry of government advertising on the
weekdays. It’s only over the weekend that
one sees retail advertising. Hence, the 20
percent is misleading because it is suggestive
of being applicable to everybody.
Samir Patil: A 20 percent rise for a
digital company is negligible because 90
percent of that revenue will go to Facebook
Rani Reddy: National publishers have
it comparatively easier than regional publishers.
The 20 percent increase is on the
base numbers. For a regional publisher, it
does not make a large impact. While the
growth might be 20 percent, we can’t increase
our prices, so the company will
have to spend the same amount on more
newspaper pages, to match the growth.
Nikhil Kanekal: I am suspect of the
numbers. Markets have remained largely
flat in terms of advertising revenues. People
have made cover price increase in
some markets, but because India is a very
price sensitive market, especially for vernacular
newspapers, a few publishers
have continued to stay away from it.
The results of some of the listed companies
for Q1 and Q2 or the past twothree
quarters show that advertising has
fallen off a cliff. Most of the revenue is
coming from some of the newer alternative
Digital businesses of course are growing,
but most of the revenue goes to the
Silicon Valley giants. We’re still away from
achieving a properly monetizable digital
media market; it’s still nascent.
Manfred Werfel: What strategies
would you say are successful for
growth in the publishing industry? Is
brand-building important or does
partnering with the big digital players
Samir Patil: The most important
strategy for Indian publishers would be to
establish a direct relationship with the audience,
rather than chasing scale. The big,
digital platforms are not our friends, and
they never intended to be.
Nikhil Kanekal: For digital media
companies to succeed and scale, the
would comprise sharply targeted
brands for specific audiences, and products
that call out to a niche audience such
as an ESPNcricinfo or a Scroll with a
10-20 million loyal digital following.
However, monetisation needs to be
taken care of. For instance, for a highquality
website like ESPNcricinfo to still be
INDIA SPECIAL EDITION JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2019
free, is a shame, but that’s the nature of
the digital beast.
Manfred Werfel: Are products aimed
at certain audiences the beginning of
the end of the newspaper or the way
to go forward for news publishers?
Rani Reddy: If you look at how markets
and trends work, you’ll notice a fall
in the global print markets in terms of
readership. A publishing house is like a
train with two engines. The first engine
continues to focus on the core business –
publishing, while the second engine is the
business of the future. Engine 2 is bolder,
tougher, faces more challenges, needs
more investment and creativity.
However, both these engines need to
learn to co-exist. Despite the investment
in engine 2, a company can never be certain
if the effort will pay off – it is a gamble
one must make.
Samir Patil: A digital business with
underdeveloped monetization can be
pushed into two to three directions. It’s
either an ad supported business, readerpaid
business or producing videos and licensing
them to other platforms.
The traffic that any publisher gets, is
fractional compared to a platform, from
an advertiser’s point of view. Scroll is a
digital-only platform and it does not have
print functions. If you don’t have engine
1 and you’re just running on engine 2,
one has no option but to figure out the
benefits of digital only vs print and digital.
How does one harmonise between the
two mediums or do they go together?
Nikhil Kanekal: Our engine 1 is our
cash cover that has been laying the foundation
for engine 2, which is still too
small in our business. One must make
sure engine 2 takes off while Engine 1 is
still running, otherwise the company will
have to bring investors in.
Krishna Prasad: NYT is the biggest
credible brand in the US, both in print
and online. For the UK, it’s the Guardian.
In India, legacy brands are facing a crisis
in creating journalistic value in the digital
space, which players like Scroll, The Wire
and The Quint have successfully achieved.
Journalism goes beyond profits and revenue
and the current media atmosphere in
India is under grave threat. To see legacy
players, abdicate their roles, speaks volumes.
All these brands will survive and
find their spaces, but we must examine
what they are bringing to the table.
Rani Reddy: Consumption habits reveal
clickbait news being read the most.
What sort of content does a publisher
generate if that is what a consumer
Samir Patil: Indian media companies
are strong establishments and in reasonably
good health. Even though there is
huge opportunity in digital, one doesn’t
usually see a high-quality editorial product.
The gap between India and the rest of
the world as far as digital upstarts are
concerned, needs to be studied. When I
launched Scroll, India was the second biggest
source of traffic for every high-quality
publication in the world – NYT, Economist,
Guardian. One needs to possess
either high quality or high scale; you can’t
be middling. We have a lot of those in
India because Engine 1 is supporting a
mediocre Engine 2.
Nikhil Kanekal: In print you can get
away with doing a little bit of everything,
which does not work in the digital space.
People, online, are looking much more
closely at your brand promise. Hence, if
you are a news media website, and are
claiming to do journalism, people will expect
that from you.
If you are putting up sleaze in the
name of journalism, because people want
it, you’re eroding your brand, which is
not a sustainable business model. It might
work in the short term to bump up page
People can find exactly what they
want on the internet. In print, perhaps
because people enjoy the monopoly of
doorstep delivery, one can get away with
content that is not very high-quality, from
time to time.
Samir Patil: There’s enough of a supply
of good quality content to test what
the reader wants. When the NYT was just
a print paper, it was read by 3 million
people. Now, 90 million people read the
website. At least one of your products
needs to pursue quality. That there is no
market for quality content is an incorrect
Krishna Prasad: There is a market,
even if it is a small one, for quality journalism
and Indian legacy players have
been woefully short of finding it. Because
they have a huge reach, they are abdicating
the responsibility of protecting this
10 WAN-IFRA INDIA 2018
Indian publishers discuss strategising
print growth with digital space
By Neha Gupta
Krishna Prasad, Nikhil Kanekal, Manfred Werfel, Samir Patil and Rani Reddy at the WANIFRA
India 2018 Conference in Hyderabad (from left).