As the western media burns midnight oil to find a way out of the crisis, let’s stop a moment and think if we Indians are taking the online media more seriously than the west did?
As far as online revolution is concerned, Indian media seems to be in a state of constant denial. They may be aware of the alarming situation in the west, but few of my journalist friends are ready to accept that we too could be destined to see a similar situation in probably less than a decade. We are lucky to have not faced the recession at a level it was experienced by our western counterparts. We are lucky to still have time to gear up to face the crisis in waiting and ward it off by learning our lessons in time.
Let’s face the truth: online media is here to stay and expand; and it does have the same targeted audience as traditional media (and much more). Its ease of use, power, reach and trust are just incomparable. If it has not yet become a threat to traditional media here, that is because of some temporary geopolitical, economic and social reasons. It is just a matter of time before it asserts itself. It is great that our newspapers are still being read and bought but there are serious doubts that the trend will still persist when we wake up in 2020.
Indian news organisations are mainly counting on two things. One, that PC and broadband penetration is still negligible in India and therefore, online media will not be able to pose a considerable challenge to newspapers. Two, Indians are too habituated of reading a newspaper with the morning cup of tea to stop buying them.
There are a few things worth considering here. With more than a Crore computers being sold every year and a similar number of mobile phones every month, it is only a matter of a few years before online media touches the lives of most newspaper readers. Indian print media must not rest its hopes on the country’s backwardness as that cannot last forever. As far as reading habits are concerned, it remains to be seen if people will still like to spend money on news when they will be in an always-connected environment where it would be absolutely free.
Rather than just waiting to see if the crisis arrives, print organizations must embolden their defences in both offline and online worlds.
Many print and electronic media houses are active in Indian online space but how many of them have built their portals to suit the requirements of an online audience? Isn’t there content just a copy of their print versions? Times of India, Web 18 and NDTV are among the few media houses that have registered significant gains in the online space. However, there is a long list of organizations which are very successful offline but have a relatively weaker online presence. The Hindu, Indian Express, Hindustan Times (which tried well but was less fortunate with results), Telegraph and many others fall in this category.
Just the way craiglist.com is driving away classified advertisements from American newspapers, makemytrip.com, naukri.com, indiaproperties.com and shaadi.com are luring away their customers and advertisers. Most of Indian print media houses have virtually no answer to these emerging heroes of online media. On the other hand, Rediff.com is an excellent example of how a pure online media project with multiple sub-projects, services and e-commerce can be built, run and made profitable. In a few years, we will be witnessing a fight between the likes of Times of India and the likes of Rediff for supremacy in the news world. So what if Rediff is not a news organization but a technology company?
New media shouldn’t be considered an enemy as it is not one. But it can be a fierce competitor: full of vigour, innovation and potential. And it could be a great friend and facilitator too. Newspapers need to build bridges with it and learn to utilize its potential for mutual benefits and growth. Even if they are forced to shun a few old-day concepts, and even if it costs them a few radical transformations.
Indian print media must change its mindset if it wants to gain from the online revolution and not lose. Our newspaper houses have tones of information, painstakingly developed networks, infrastructure and necessary resources. What stops them from using all this and their brand equity to bring innovative, pure online projects and services? Why could they not empower their print activities with the technological capabilities extended by their online projects, and help their new media projects utilize their real-world networks and background? Let’s be a little innovative.