Ifra India: Promoting print a challenge in a digital age (updated, gallery)

India's printed newspaper success story isn't easily translated into advertising sales, delegates at the WAN-Ifra India 2019 conference heard.

While challenges increasingly come from digital media, it was those in the print segment which concentrated the minds of members of a panel at the conference in Gurugram, which is co-sponsored by the Indian Newspaper Society.

Malayala Manorama's marketing and advertisement sales vice president Varghese Chandy said that while there was a popular perception that newspapers were dying, "national brands are still being created on printed newspapers".

He said that while global reports talked of the fall in print circulations, India Readership Survey studies showed gains of around 16 million readers for printed newspapers and 7.8 million for magazines. "We have to ensure that this is the narrative that is going around," he said.

The panel - moderated by The Hindu chief revenue officer Suresh Balakrishna and including Rajeev Beotra (HT English), Sudha Natarajan (response director at Times of India publisher Bennett Coleman & Co) and Jagran Prakashan senior vice president Vipon Khatwani focused on key issues of content and trust, Beotra asserting that local content would build relevance with advertisers, while digital was "not there yet". Balakrishna said print still held "huge trust" among consumers: "Credibility has a premium and advertisers have to be thrilled to be part of that environment.," he said.

Speakers from India and overseas contributed the three keynote perspectives which got Ifra India off to a strong start. Lisa MacLeod - who is head of digital at South African English-language publisher Tiso Blackstar as well at the current vice-president of WAN-Ifra - and Warren Fernanadez, editor-in-chief of the the Straits Times and Singapore Press Holdings' English/Malay/Tamil media group, both had stories to tell of tech innovations and business transformation, while Bennett, Coleman & Co chief executive Raj Jain provided an Indian perspective.

MacLeod told how Tiso Blackstar had built its own content management system, reduced the number of editions and trimmed print costs. "Our reporting staff now starts early in the day to file reports for the web. Paid content is our primary focus and we have six operational paywalls," she said.

With data costs for mobile phones about six times higher than that in Europe, South Africans spend more on communication than on health or education. "To serve the large chunk of our audience who cannot afford data, we have created an app that does not need data to run.

"SA News Live is powered by free content from all our newsrooms."

Fernandez discussed extending the life of the printed product, while gearing up for a digital-first newsroom and issues with transformation. "We looked at global newsrooms but figured replication was not an option," he said. "We needed to understand our audience. We don't like to call ourselves a digital-first newsroom - print and digital both play an important part for us".

Jain talked about the print business in India and how it is a flag-bearer of responsible journalism. "It doesn't leave much room for sensationalism and out of context reporting," he said.

"In the last few years while print has fought for survival globally, it has thrived in India. It, however, has also faced challenges. The habit of reading the newspaper in the morning is being threatened by digital notifications and multimedia. Print has to be its own innovator and disrupter in the new world," he added.

Learning from the past - perhaps without inhibitions - was the theme of a discussion with input from former Kasturi & Sons director Kasturi Balaji and consultant Gerhard Raab, until last year international sales vice president at ppi Media, while Future Group customer strategy head Madan Mohan Mohapatra took the dialogue forward to discuss content, communities and commerce, which shape "the new age advertising world".

Two parallel summits addressed advertising and the printing topics. Streams took the afternoon into aspects of print including cost optimization (DB Corp chief technology officer RD Bhatnagar), the power of print through European newspapers (Ulbe Jelluma of Print Power Europe), process innovation (The Hindu general manager Mohanraj and IT prepress nanager Krishna Karthik) and quality control (THG Publishing printing deputy general manager Mohan Raj P and IT prepress manager Krishna Karthik).

Anup Gupta, Integration managing editor at the Hindustan Times, provided a case history of a product-based innovation and "monetisation friendly product" aimed at a youth audience.

The impact of the 'MeToo' movement was one of the topics under discussion when attention turned to WAN-Ifra's 'Women in News' initiative and the issue of women in newsrooms. Ritu Kapur (pictured) co-Founder and chief executive of Quintillion Media, presided over a panel including independent journalist Neha Dixit, editor of The Lede Sandhya Ravishankar, and the Indian Express's investigations editor Ritu Sarin.

The first day concluded with a gala dinner, while a number of delegates took part in a visit to the Times of India printing plant in Manesar after the conference had closed.

The event attracted more than 340 news publishing executives from 25 countries.

More than 25 suppliers from India and abroad participated in the foyer expo, with local press maker Manugraph using the opportunity to announce a technological collaboration with Japanese maker Seiken.

The conference was preceded by a workshop on combating misinformation led by Pratik Sinha, co-founder of Alt News. The two-day workshop covered a host of skills to fight fake news including video and image verification, writing a convincing fact-check, search strategies for different platforms.

-with thanks to WAN-Ifra India

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