Cheap tablets in India may be spell amber light for print media

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 ch
eap 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!