The Fu­ture of Print

While the world read­ily adopts dig­i­tal me­dia in the realm news and in­for­ma­tion, print me­dia con­tin­ues to have rel­e­vance in South Asia.

Southasia - - Contents - By Da­niah Ish­tiaq

Is print me­dia out­dated?

The me­dia land­scape is rapidly chang­ing as more stu­dents and young pro­fes­sion­als uti­lize dig­i­tal me­dia, be it for news, en­ter­tain­ment or so­cial and pro­fes­sional net­work­ing. As me­dia users, we pre­fer to get “news alerts” from around the world right into our hand­held de­vices rather than buy a news­pa­per and search for el­e­ments of in­ter­est. But does this ring true for the South Asian masses as well?

The global pre­dic­tions for print me­dia are dis­mal to say the least. In 2010, The Times of In­dia ran a story on Ross Daw­son, a fu­tur­ist who pre­dicted the ex­tinc­tion of news­pa­pers in 52 coun­tries be­tween 2017 and 2039, with the last of the print­ing giants clos­ing in the United States in 2017. The good news is that not a sin­gle South Asian coun­try features on this list. To say that print me­dia in South Asia is in a cri­sis, would be mis­lead­ing. Even as cir­cu­la­tion drops in ma­ture mar­kets, South Asian news and pub­lish­ing houses are still able to guar­an­tee a re­li­able and size­able au­di­ence for their print streams. In In­dia, China, Brazil and South Africa, cir­cu­la­tion con­tin­ues to in­crease. Pak­istan has seen an in­flux of a large num­ber of daily and weekly news­pa­pers in English, Urdu and other re­gional lan­guages in the last few years with an in­creas­ing num­ber of read­ers.

Wide eco­nomic and in­fras­truc­tural dis­par­i­ties ex­ist in South Asia. While one can ar­gue over the low lit­er­acy rates, print me­dia in lo­cal lan­guages, sur­passes that bar­rier. A lead­ing rea­son for the lack of readi­ness to adopt dig­i­tal me­dia lies in South Asia’s in­fras­truc­tural devel­op­ment. Most coun­tries within the re­gion are ru­ral economies with the ma­jor­ity of the pop­u­la­tion re­sid­ing in such ar­eas. In ad­di­tion to a lack of ed­u­ca­tion, in­ter­net avail­abil­ity is also lim­ited to far-flung ar­eas and is re­stricted pri­mar­ily to ur­ban cen­ters. Fur­ther­more, low-speed in­ter­net does not al­low for the op­ti­mal on­line ex­pe­ri­ence and is a hin­drance to dig­i­tal knowl­edge ac­qui­si­tion. In such a sit­u­a­tion, many eas­ily re­vert to print sources, which are both af­ford­able and read­ily ac­ces­si­ble. Ac­cord­ing to the PWC Global En­ter­tain­ment and Me­dia Out­look 2010-2014, while Sin­ga­pore and Malaysia have high in­ter­net house­hold pen­e­tra­tion (133% and 90%, re­spec­tively), coun­tries such as Viet­nam, the Philip­pines, Thai­land and In­done­sia fall

well be­low the global av­er­age of 45%. This in ef­fect shows a ma­jor­ity of the pop­u­la­tion’s in­abil­ity to ac­cess on­line me­dia.

Print con­tin­ues to be a ma­jor con­trib­u­tor to me­dia in South Asia. While the younger lot prefers dig­i­tal me­dia and on­line in­for­ma­tion, the older gen­er­a­tion prefers print, view­ing it as a more cred­i­ble source than the plethora of on­line in­for­ma­tion that can eas­ily be ma­nip­u­lated. For mar­keters, print me­dia pro­vides a plat­form that a viewer can­not browse or skip. In print you can now touch, sam­ple and even smell prod­ucts un­like in the dig­i­tal me­dia. Con­trary to Pak­istan, the Phil- ip­pines and Thai­land, where most of the money in ad­ver­tis­ing goes to tele­vi­sion, In­dia and Malaysia spend large amounts of ad­ver­tis­ing bud­gets on print me­dia; ac­cord­ing to The Hindu Times, in In­dia, 50% of over­all ad ex­pen­di­ture in 2010 went to print.

For those in print me­dia, the dilemma lies within the rev­enue models of the two broad me­dia out­lets. Dig­i­tal distri­bu­tion thrives through higher vol­umes and deeper pen­e­tra­tion; rev­enue is not easy to squeeze out of dig­i­tal sub­scribers and ad­ver­tis­ers. How­ever, serv­ing one or ten mil­lion cus­tomers dig­i­tally costs the same amount. Gain­ing au­di­ence for print me­dia, on the other hand, is costly; ev­ery ad­di­tional reader comes with tan­gi­ble in­dus­trial costs in­clud­ing print­ing, ship­ping and de­liv­ery of the fi­nal prod­uct to homes, of­fices, etc. Hav­ing said that, each print reader car­ries a much bet­ter av­er­age rev­enue per unit (ARPU) than its on­line coun­ter­part. For a con­sid­er­able pe­riod, due to the ex­is­tence of loyal and sol­vent read­ers, a sig­nif­i­cant share of the au­di­ence will fa­vor the print ver­sion, re­gard­less of the price. To put it in eco­nomic terms, the price of print me­dia is fairly non- elas­tic; price hikes don’t nec­es­sar­ily trans­late into sig­nif­i­cant drops in cir­cu­la­tion. Th­ese hikes may re­sult in rev­enues that al­low pub­lish­ers to de­velop and en­hance their dig­i­tal tech­nolo­gies and there­fore their pres­ence in the dig­i­tal world.

The news­pa­per in­dus­try has shown re­silience for over 400 years and it is not go­ing any­where as far as South Asia is con­cerned. How­ever, the in­dus­try will have to evolve to serve the vary­ing con­sumer de­mands, whether dig­i­tal or print. The key to stay­ing rel­e­vant will now be to ef­fec­tively tar­get the var­i­ous seg­ments of the mar­ket with the types of in­for­ma­tion or con­tent that is of­fered, whether it is world af­fairs, en­ter­tain­ment or ed­u­ca­tion. Ev­ery print publi­ca­tion in South Asia to­day must have an on­line pres­ence ca­ter­ing to the seg­ment of the mar­ket that has ac­cess to dig­i­tal me­dia and ex­presses a need to have in­for­ma­tion on the go. The key is to main­tain con­gru­ency in dig­i­tal and print pres­ence.

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