Why print in India is defying the global trend…

25 Sep,2018



By Nandini Dias


Nandini Dias

It is by now a pretty well-established finding that the typically argumentative Indian rarely conforms to global marketing norms. That’s the reason many multinationals have had to change the global narrative to suit the Indian mindset.


Companies like Unilever, McDonalds, Kellogg’s, Maggi have had to make fundamental changes in their pitch to the local market. Native clothing, for instance, is fairly mainstream as are investment patterns which, unlike the rest of the world, stays largely within fixed deposits and gold with pension and insurance battling weak penetration most of the time.


Print media, it seems, is another case in point. Where it seems to be on a downward trajectory globally but in India it seems to be holding steady albeit with the growth rate declining to around 7 or 8%. While the change is inevitable, in typical Indian complexity, the change in the system will be more covert, with stealth and over time. But it’s interesting to assess why we are defying the global trend.


1. Rising literacy level is probably the highest growth driver. The maximum growth is in the six Hindi-speaking states of UP, Bihar, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand and Chattisgarh where half of India’s lower literacy (48.12) lived. In addition, the unrelenting thrust and effort put in by newspaper brand in these states has borne fruit.


2. Unlike many western countries, the distribution mode for newspapers in India is 99% home delivery under a subscription model. The very fact that it reaches millions of homes, effortlessly and with amazing consistency has ensured that the habit does not wear off easily . In addition, while news reaches Indian homes in various formats, print has taken on a unique form of mass personalisation. FMCGs have started using newspapers with renewed thrust to roll out sampling and product trials. Auto brands like Tata have used print to distribute personalised augmented reality kits to push test drives. While DMPs are struggling with API and data onboarding, print has started using their databases intelligently to ensure that consumers and marketers can get connected. Print seems to have evolved into a hydra- headed combination of direct marketing, digital, print, sampling and even experiential. So change has come but in a muted form. Newspapers need to further enable connection between reader and ecommerce or purchase. If the lead generation through print proves to be a cost effective model the evolved version may stand to scrutiny.


3. Print in India will also stand at an advantage for another four-five years as our internet consumption is predominantly in English and only 12% of the population actually read and understand English. Also, while 15 years back it was accepted that purchasing power and English-speaking consumers had a huge intersection, that is no longer true today. Regional ethnic groups like Haryana’s Gujjars and Jats have gained rapid affluence and their language of comfort is not English. The need to go beyond English is important and regional language newspapers are leaving no stone unturned to ensure that they partner the regional nouveau riche. While regional digital is also charged up it may take some years to catch up.


4. While digital is supposed to ring the death knell of newspaper, the over saturation of fake news and unregulated citizen journalism has inadvertently brought renewed credibility to the print medium. And with television and digital posturing as sensational ‘breaking news’ media, newspapers have been forced to reposition themselves as offering in-depth analysis of news and current affairs which are well researched and validated. But the experience, visually rich, speed and convenience are aspects that need to be worked upon.


So, while both sides will struggle to come out more victorious the challenges that need to be answered are two-fold.


:: How to monetise e-paper. The equation between digital advertising revenues, cost per reader, paywall or not etc. hasn’t been very conducive to making the business profitable.


:: The millennial youth has grown up using personalised screens. Will the newspaper printed format ever be relevant for them?


Published with permission from the International Advertising Association (India Chapter).



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