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.
Is print media outdated?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.