Paritosh Joshi: Does readership have a future?

08 Jun,2012

By Paritosh Joshi


A few months back, I had the opportunity of hearing Mr N Ram of The Hindu speaking at an industry conference on the future of newspaper readership. His erudition and scholarship are legendary, his command of the language second to none and his rich baritone makes the experience an auditory delight. However, the central conceit of that day’s oration was anything but pleasant. In no uncertain terms, Mr Ram spelt out the impending annihilation of the print medium, not in the West, about which we have all heard, but right here in India. Interestingly enough, in the months that have passed since, I don’t seem to remember seeing a single repudiation of this bleak forecast.


Right then, two words. Theodore Levitt.


Let me cast my mind back a bit over the going-on-50 years I have spent on this planet. It is conventional wisdom, and an oft-repeated criticism of the younger generation, that nobody reads anything anymore. The comparison, always, is to the literate past when “everyone” read. Let me be clear. This whole notion is a great big ballyhoo. Reading, back in those days, necessarily meant one of the following, extremely short, list: (1) books (2) periodicals, including newspapers and (3) personal writings such as school work and letters: written or received. Reading and writing were not pervasive activities. Yes there were obsessive readers; I was one; but they represented a minority- a persecuted minority I might add being seen as bookworm wimps- compared to the red-blooded lads who spent every spare moment mercilessly kicking a ball, and as frequently each other, on the nearest available dusty lot. Kids did not wake up only to check overnight Facebook, Twitter and BBM messages and posts on their mobile devices. They did not surf for lyrics of the latest song by Lamb of God or August burns red. They did not go to bed after writing their blogspot or tumblr post for the evening.


Messenger apps, social media, classwork, homework, leisure, amusement, resentment, sorrow, anger- there isn’t a personal emotion, engagement or venue where a 21st century denizen is able to function without reading or writing something. The Web does not talk to its users; I mean it can and does, but it is primarily enabled for people who can write and read. This must be understood: Web users better be literate at least in terms of basic reading and writing before they can get any substantial value out of it. Here’s an assertion. More people do more reading and writing (nearly incessantly in fact) in 2012, as compared to any previous period of known human history.


Brings us to the daily or periodical print publication.


Who needs newspapers and magazines any more? We have the social media to tell us exactly what is happening anywhere on the planet in real time, right? We heard about the Anna Hazare arrest and detention at Tihar, fire in the Bangalore skyscraper, the Fukushima Tsunami, the Black Wednesday market collapse; heck, <name random news event here>, long before even the TV news broadcasters had cottoned on to it. Yes, but that was the first, mostly unverified and unverifiable heads-up on the story vis-à-vis the detail and insight that we now have.


Where did the insight come from? We waited until a few hours later when our trustworthy daily or periodical carried a fact-checked and properly edited version of the story.


Mr Murdoch Senior, not the gentleman at the heart of all manner of brouhaha, the other one, says it simply and well. Good news must be paid for because it costs a whole lot to produce. You cannot crowd-source the truly significant story. Nor can you crowd-source incisive editorial commentary. And it does not matter how or where a consumer will choose to consume it. Mr Murdoch has backed word by action, putting first the Wall Street Journal, then the Times of London and then a whole sheaf of other Newscorp publications behind pay-walls. More and more people are paying. What is more, even publications that were the most vocal critics of the move: New York Times comes to mind, have themselves succumbed to the same gambit. Of course, the pay wall is by no means the only way to make online content pay for itself but it becomes a great example of how indispensable quality journalism is to Joe Public, even if it cost a few coins.


The newspaper is not about paper; it is about news. The first is the physicality of a product. The second is the consumer benefit. It is fair to say that paper will continue to disappear from the newspaper. But news quite definitely will not.


Theodore Levitt called the confusion MARKETING MYOPIA.


Paritosh Joshi was until recently CEO, Star CJ. He has been a marketer, a mediaperson and a key officebearer on industry bodies. He can reached via the comments board below or his Twitter handle @paritoshZero.


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2 responses to “Paritosh Joshi: Does readership have a future?”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Thank you, Ms. de Souza! We endeavour at least to amuse if not edify.

  2. Lynn de Souza says:

    your best piece to date, mr joshi.