News Republic’s Shafi Saxena shares India plans

MUMBAI: In an age where the average time span that a reader spends on an article continues to decline, Indian readers, especially the youth, have emerged as voracious readers, with a knack for in-depth articles heavy on data.


The perspective comes from news consumption surveys done by one of the leading global news syndicators, News Republic that launched in India six months ago.

“We do regular news consumption surveys on our platform based on global trends. We have found that young Indian readers are very similar to the global readers in terms of topics and trends they follow. The number one reason they follow news is to be connected with the rest of the world,” says News Republic, chief brand officer  Shafi Saxena who recently visited Mumbai.  But when it comes to long form versus short form journalism, Indians, including the young readers who form the bulk of India’s readership, are inclined towards the former.

“I think India is one of the robust long form markets in the world. Indians like to read and they love data. For instance, in India, right now, the user is reading about a hundred pages on our app every month. In France and Germany which are both well-established markets for us, they are reading two hundred pages a month, with the global average being 150 pages a month approximately. If we look at the fact that we just launched in May in this market, and are still in the process of bringing more partners and content on board, if India is already reading 100 pages on the app, that's pretty significant,” asserts Saxena.

In terms of subjects or beats, the Indian news reader is interested in political news, technological news and sports and entertainment. “I have seen huge traction for sites such as cricbuzz, cricinfo, etc.”

Saxena informs that she is looking at a target group of young educated Indians making more use of the app which is mobile only, and has 40 editions worldwide and content partnerships with over 1,100 leading news organizations. Shafi breaks down News Republics’ syndication partnerships with publications across the board as ‘a simple revenue sharing business,’ while giving due credit to the publication and journalists involved. Available on Android, iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch and Samsung Watch (Gear S2), News Republic syndicated news articles from 1,500 licensed publishers.

With 50,000 licensed articles made available on the platform daily, curating them for the readers becomes a crucial step. Shafi explains how they go about it while staying impartial to a topic or a publication. “If we find 700 articles written about say Bihar elections, and two of them are being clicked on the most, and readers are spending more time on them, we will prioritise quality and interest and boost those articles. Instead of sending all 700 articles, we will push those two. The algorithm running on the app takes the call based on several variables such as readership, level of interest, how long are people staying on the article as well as how many moods, shares and comments readers have shared on it. It sounds simple but it's a complex analytical tool that powers our curation,” she ifnorms.

Infact, the app locates a user with geotagging and pushes local articles relative to their current location if users enable the service. Moreover the service has also curated articles in eight regional Indian languages, from regional news producing partners such as Aaj Tak.

With Digital India still in the making and most of the country not having uniform internet connection, would an app like News Republic be able cater to tier II and tier II users with same amount of coverage? “We are aware of the limited availability of high speed internet in India and have taken a few steps keeping that in mind,” Saxena clarifies, “For example, in the metros you can opt for the full-fledged robust interface of the app, with videos and photos and all the multimedia. But those in areas of weaker internet connection can access the app in just the HTML format, which is lighter and easily downloadable. You can opt to download rich media when you have Wifi access. Moreover one can access and save articles while in a 3G or 4G zone, and read them again offline as well.”

Despite such a diverse range and coverage News Republic comes completely free for a user. “Our app is free. We do have a subscription based model, but its contribution is tiny when it comes to our total revenue. The rest is all ad based. We have not turned on ads in India yet. We cannot do advertisement in a market in the first year of our launch. Having said that, we are a revenue generating company in markets we have been in for a while such as Europe and the western market. We use the revenue we generate in such markets and the funding that we have to reinvest  in newer markets like India and Russia,” Shafi explains, while adding that the app just celebrated one year of its presence in Russia.

The company plans to cash-in on advertisement revenue in India in about a year of being in operation after studying the market. “When you launch in a new market, there are so many variables that are out of your control. Anything from bandwidth to spectrum, to server, to usage, to the kind of phones people are using, affect us. It's takes about a year to learn the market,” Shafi adds, saying she is highly optimistic about doing business in India, going by the rate at which mobile users are increasing.

“Indians are spending more time on mobile. They are spending three to five hours per day online, and a bulk of that is on mobile. So an ad revenue generated model of the app will soon launch in this market,” she adds with optimism, while also revealing the kind of advertisers her company sees on-board in a year's time. “As per our TG, I see automobiles, education and technology related advertisers spending on News Republic. And of course e-commerce players are also major potential advertisers for us.”

Speaking about News Republic’s future plans for the Indian market she says, “The Indian market is growing very quickly. Strategic conception points can happen overnight in a country as technology savvy and aspirational as India. Mobile and social is the name of the game in the media business here. We have some big plans for the market which we will reveal in about three months’ time.”

“While we are looking at virtual reality and 3D video and other exciting stuff in the west, we will bring them to India as well, after addressing the country’s bandwidth issues first. For now we will be looking to a multi-lingual, mobile optimised format with respect to the ecosystem. There’s lots in store for sure,” Saxena concludes.

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