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Print thrives in India amid digital growth

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MUMBAI: Print is still breathing strong in India while gasping for life in the US where Internet is poised to overtake the traditional media this year as advertisers chase young audiences.

A wave of acquisitions and expansions through multiple editions have been supported by the raising of capital from initial public offerings (IPOs) and private equity firms. Heightened activity is driven by increasing literacy rates, consumer spending and the growth of regional markets.

Said Business Standard chairman T N Ninan, "In India, the print market shows contradictory trends. Proliferation and consolidation are happening at the same time. New titles are being launched even as the market is consolidating. Advertising is going towards the entertainment media while advertising in news content is moving towards the Internet."

The encouraging fact is that newspapers have seen 6 to 20 per cent growth in sales, while TV news channels have seen losses. However, Ninan has expressed doubts about certain anomalies in the sector. "English newspaper circulation grows by 70 per cent but readership grows by 2 per cent. Industry practices need to come to focus at some point of time. Metrics of the industry are rigged, so nobody knows the truth," he said.

HT Media CEO Rajiv Varma said the print medium is still a thriving business in the eastern countries like Japan and Singapore. "The picture is not very encouraging in western countries like the US where print newspaper advertisements have declined from $60 billion in the late ?90s to $20 billion in 2011. Internet has impacted most newspapers in the last decade in the US. In India, the picture is not very clear. How audience is going to behave in the next decade remains a question. For newspapers to survive, they will have to be more innovative and will have to diversify into other portfolios."

Advertising is still the primary source of income for print. The business model needs to be tweaked to fit into the new market environment. Said Ninan, "Internationally, the business model is subscription-led. At some point of time, India will have to move towards that model."

According to Lintas Media Group Chairperson and CEO Lynn De Souza, advertising spends during the last five years have doubled and print has done well to maintain its share. "Ad spends have grown from Rs 150 billion to Rs 300 billion. The share of the print media has remained the same ? around 40 per cent," she said, while speaking at Ficci Frames.

De Souza noted that despite the growth of TV and Internet, the print medium has held fort. "There is certainly buoyancy in the print market," she said, adding that digital technology was still confined primarily to the English-speaking market and would take time to reach the masses who are already hooked to the print medium, mainly because of its availability in regional/vernacular languages.

Digitisation is putting pressure on print to change. "For decades, newspapers were built on a model where readers would come and engage with the stories to reach the advertised product or message. Digitisation has disrupted that model. Now advertisers do not need to use doors to reach their target as they can reach out to them directly. The online revolution is very young but in the next decade will be more viable and newer models will evolve, " observed Varma.

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