By Anand Parthasarathy, Editor, IndiaTechOnline
December 26 2012: Eighty years after it was launched, Newsweek magazine will cease publication of its print edition this weekend. From January 2013, it will be available in digital formats only – for platforms like tablet PCs and smart phones. Its web edition is already part of the news and commentary site, The Daily Beast.
Newsweek’s final cover is an aerial shot of its New York headquarters across which is a banner -- ironically in Twitter format -- with the hashtag: #lastprintissue. Editor Tina Brown has sent out a twitter: “Bitter sweet! Wish us luck! “
Says the Wall St. Journal: “Newsweek's switch is a signpost of how traditional print news outlets are being battered by an exodus of readers and advertisers to the Web. Since 2005, Newsweek's circulation has dropped by about half to 1.5 million and advertising pages plunged more than 80%, while the magazine's annual losses had lately reached roughly $40 million. Subscriptions to the new all-digital publication, called Newsweek Global, costs $4.99 for a single copy—the same price as the magazine—or $24.99 for an annual subscription….The first issue of Newsweek was dated Feb. 17, 1933, and cost a dime. A subscription cost $4 a year.”
Going digital may not be salvation for Newsweek – if one were to go by the other big media news last week. The Daily, the world’s first digital newspaper specifically tailored for the iPad and started by the Murdoch-owned News Corp, ceased publication on December 15. Its website says: “The Daily was an incredible vehicle for innovation and we're proud of the groundbreaking work we did but, ultimately, we were not able to grow as large an audience as we'd hoped.” Inspite of 100,000 subscribers who paid , 99 cents a week or $39.99 a year, making it the most popular iPad app available, The Daily was unable to sustain itself.
So within the same month, we have a leading international print weekly going digital -- even as the first digital- only newspaper folds up. The huge manthan or churning that is going on in the media – old as well as new -- as we enter 2013, points to confusing times rarther than a clear message.
Business Standard this morning this morning quotes a report from financial services firm Motilal Ostwal, which finds that the print media in India expects earnings at a compound annual growth rate of 17 per cent during the fiscal year 2013-15. This is in comparison to a three per cent growth in FY 2012-13 and a 11 per cent decline in 2011-12. While English takes the largest chunk -- almost 40 per cent --of print advertisment revenues with 18 million daily readers, Hindi is the most popular language some 65 million daily readers, but only 30 per cent of print ad spends.Such statistics have seen India’s print media leadership display a cosy complacency, a feeling that it is somehow immune to the world wide trend where print is having to embrace digital, in large or small measure. This is foolish. Digital media is a case of when, not if.
Creating a viable media business in a predominantly digital world is a huge challenge – and no one has found the magic bullet, the sure shot solution. The Web is uncharted territory; but it is out there – and increasingly the only way for news creator to find news buyer.
India’s print media barons would do well to invest in a 5000-rupee tablet PC similar to the government sponsored Aakash – and there are a dozen options available. I would also suggest they read the article “Why a cheap tablet is a game-changer”, by veteran IT journalist Prasanto Roy in the December issue of PC Quest , as well as the review of the budget tablets elsewhere in the issue. They will get a rude awakening.
They should then see the free editions of hundreds of print publications, possibly including their own, on these tablets. They will realise, that the experience is as close as it gets today to actually holding a piece of newsprint in one’s hands. Nearly a billion Indians already own a mobile phone. How long will it take them to graduate to a device, only marginally costlier, which serves as a phone as well as a PC? Many of these entry level tablets have a slot to insert a phone SIM.
And when that happens, how many subscribers of print newspapers or magazines will say: Why should I pay a couple of hundred rupees or more every month, when I can read the paper quite comfortably on my ‘Phone-Pad’? May be not in large numbers, but the trickle will start… and advertisers on whom the Indian print media has a severely skewed dependence, will move where readers move.
The death of the printed Newsweek may be a case of distant drums for the Indian media. But there is a message in the drum’s dirge nevertheless. A message which says: Wake up, a whole new digital world will be upon us – soon. Adjust - - or die.
It is a message that we at IndiaTechOnline heard four years ago, when we decided to launch a free, Web-only resource to tell the story of Information Technology from an Indian stand point.. highlighting what Indian companies, India-based global entities and Indians – everywhere – are doing to harness the tools of IT to create a better, safer, more connected world for all. To sustain a publication like this, even while remaining fiercely independent of any enterprise large or small, has not been easy – but we enter our fifth year next week, with hope and renewed faith in what we set out to do. While pursuing our course, we have been thrilled to see the quality of our service widely appreciated – as evidenced by our page rankings. And the number of regional IT events who partner with us ( you can see over a dozen banners on the right hand column of our home page), is for us, proof that excellence and information sharing in Information Technology is a phenomenon beyond borders. We plan on continuing to promote such synergies, even as we tell the India IT story in the best way we can, as long as we can. Happy New Year!