07 Nov 2018 20:04 IST

How can print media survive digitalisation?

Diversification, new marketing strategies and social media are some creative solutions being adopted

Are you missing what’s important?

Building the nation

If it matters to you, it matters to us.

If you are wondering what the above are, they are tag-lines of leading newspapers — The Times (UK); The Sowetan (South Africa) and The Herald (Washington); respectively. Print media has been an integral part of our lives and shaped our thinking and world view over the years. However, in recent times, digitalisation has invaded the newspaper publishing sector. The news reading habit has changed in duration and format. On an average, people spend 44 minutes on Facebook every day, compared to 4 minutes on newspapers!

It is obvious, at this point, that e-content is more popular and this digitalisation is costing newspaper brands dearly in terms of ad revenues. So much so that, in 2013, The Washington Post CEO asked Amazon founder Jeff Bezos to take over the publishing company.

This poses a serious marketing problem for the newspaper industry. On the one hand, you have declining readership, a shift in news content (news is itself getting redefined), and multiple formats through which news is consumed. On the other hand, foreign players such as Financial Chronicle and The Wall Street Journal are now available in India, thanks to the easing of FDI norms in 2016. So, this is a tough time for the Indian print media houses. Here are some ways they can survive the onslaught:

Products

To counter this phenomenon, many creative solutions have emerged. One is diversifying into TV channels in order to get into the mind-space of readers. Though this requires a different skill-set, newspaper industry players consider this a potential revenue stream for advertising. Columbia Herald runs a digital agency programme that helps local merchants build websites. It also runs an online ticket sales portal — all to generate advertising revenue.

Collaborations across print media facilities is another way for media houses to cut costs. For instance, Lokmat does the printing for Maharashtra Times as it has excess capacity. All these measures are aimed at managing costs better, in the wake of digitalisation and the traditional formats losing relevance.

The newspaper has had no choice but to innovate to keep up with the times. There have been forays into different segments — special issues for women, or for the student community. Such initiatives have helped sustain the relevance of the print product.

Promotion and placement

Promotion through social media is critical as that makes the product relevant and helps it stay visible. It is a quick way to spread the word and draw readers.

Newspaper agents and vendors continue to be a part of the value chain but retailers alone cannot be relied on to market the brand. The growing role of devices such as smartphones in news consumption makes it imperative for media houses to tweak their marketing strategies to cater to this segment too.

Positioning

Just like any strong brand, each newspaper house needs to stand for something unique — The Times abandoned its ‘breaking news’ segment because it believed the property belonged to BBC. Florida-based Sarasota Observer started printing what is called ‘refrigerator news’ — content that can be stuck on to a fridge for handy reference.

Having celebrity columnists is another way to build a newspaper brand. For example, The New York Times has renowned economist Paul Krugman writing for it exclusively. News can also be told in an interesting story form — Financial Chronicle does this very well, by using visuals in an aesthetically appealing manner.

News consumption

Old habits die hard, and newspapers mean more than just news consumption in India — they signify the ritual start to a day. Personal details such as deaths and marriages are announced through this medium. Also, discussion of news is a community practice — chai per charcha, newspaper ke saath aur bhi badiya!

A good newspaper is a nation talking to itself, and that’s never going to stop.

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