Indian print media in trouble?
Indian newspapers and magazines aren’t doing well. Thats what the data from the IRS (Indian Readership Survey, Round 1) tells us. And this decline in readership throws up a grim trend. While another body which does such surveys, the NRS (National Readership Survey, consisting of the AAAI [Advertising Agencies Association of India], ABC [Audit Bureau of Circulation] and the INS [Indian Newspaper Society] did show an increase of 6 million readers, from 216 million to 222 million, the IRS didn’t, not even last year. Most newspapers and magazines showed a decline in readership in the IRS survey.
So is this really the beginning of the end of the print media? Is India finally tuning in to global trends?
The print industry is not exactly shaken up by these circulation figures as they feel that this could be a ‘temporary aberration’ but in my opinion even if the next round of the survey tells us that alls well, thats going to be temporary. The day when our print media starts to show a consistently decreased rate of growth is not far. After all, the new generation of Indians who have grown up on television and the internet have come of age.
In any case, TV journalism in India is far superior to the print media today. The investigative stories that are shown are gripping and honest. And almost all TV news channels have analytical programmes, detailed discussions with experts, talk shows on current events and this is over and above the obvious advantage TV news has – round the clock updates. Internet news is easy to update as well.
Any newspaper or magazine that ups its quality has a chance to grow ofcourse but I don’t see this happening much. Most magazines and newspapers here have been so replete with success that they have become complacent. We are seeing more ads and less content in almost every newspaper. Even newspapers promising to deliver news analysis are not delivering. Those that do offer some in-depth articles often come out with dull pieces that are difficult to read. And as for investigative journalism…well, its more or less non existent in the print media today. Also, many mainline newspapers have columns written either by celebrities or journalists and ex-editors whose columns well purely on their name. The content of their columns is not whetted.
About ads…there is a major newspaper (highly respected at one time) which often has this huge ad flap that covers half the page and this makes the newspaper difficult to hold. If one can’t even hold the newspaper in one’s hand without it falling apart, then whats the use of buying the paper? Thats the main USP of the print media gone down the drain. And then there other accusations – that newspapers are selling ad space in the guise of news. Take a look at this and judge for yourself:
The article is about the plane, but the picture and the headline talks of fruit. Obviously an ad – and right below the masthead at that. This reveals a shocking lack of journalism ethics. There have been other articles appearing in the same newspaper (on the front page) about how ‘inexpensive’ mangoes are now and how the market is being ‘flooded’ with the fruit. But I checked in the market, and as far as I knew, there have no such dramatic reduction in prices. And while mangoes are flooding the market, there are few takers. The truth is that big mango sellers hire PR agencies to try and plant stories in major newspapers. Still, I wanted to give this newspaper the benefit of the doubt…until I saw this obvious front page ‘article’.
Readers get offended by these tactics, and any newspaper which ignores readers feelings will pay the price in the long term. Today they are getting the ads and in fact the ad industry itself is thriving – the Indian advertising industry itself has grown from Rs 9,500 crores in 2002 to Rs 16,000 crores in 2006 (according to a FICCI-Pricewaterhouse Coopers report). And out of the Rs 16,000 crore ad spends – the press hogged 48.2 per cent of the ads as compared to TV’s 40.6. But how long can this last? Look whats happening globally. Massive retrenchment in the print media. Plummeting ads.
It won’t be long before Indian advertisers too get wise to the fact that readers are shedding the old and getting on with the future. And the money in news will become concentrated on television and on the internet. The days when people subscribed to several newspapers and magazines are starting to be over.