TECH TALK: Rethinking Newspapers: The Indian Context
Indian media is booming. TV channels are sprouting up to cater to every niche. FM radio is coming into its own. The Internet too is showing signs of a revival. The mobile is emerging as a new alternative. And newspapers are proliferating. Flush with funds, most Indian publishing houses are expanding operations. Mumbai provides a good snapshot of whats happening: Hindustan Times entered, DNA launched, and Mumbai Mirror was created by Times of India as yet another alternative.
Yet, when I sit to read the newspapers every morning, I find fewer and fewer stories to read. And it is not just because I may have read the stories on the Internet or seen them on TV. I cannot but help thinking that, in their efforts to build (or retain) a mass user base rapidly, most newspapers have decided that they need to cater to the lowest common denominator. That means focusing on the youth, whove got limited attention span and (perhaps) prefer dumbed-down versions of stories. And that is exactly what the rest of us get. The Indian Express remains the only exception and thats why it is the paper I read first.
After reading Jeff Jarvis and Jon Fine, I started thinking about the Indian context. How can Indian newspapers improve their content so that I spend more time with the newspaper and with their brand? I may not fall in the youth category but, surely, my attention is worth something and there are plenty of others like me. How can an Indian newspaper build a compelling print and online proposition for readers like me? For the purpose of this discussion, I will focus on English newspapers.
An English language newspaper in India must make the assumption that every one of its readers has access to the Internet. Considering that the largest English-language Indian newspaper sells a million copies and the Internet user base is estimated at anywhere between 25-35 million users, that is a reasonable assumption. In fact, it can also be assumed that the reader uses a mobile phone. So, that is the context in which one needs to think. The newspaper reader is not just always reachable (via mobile) but also has access to a connected computer for complementing the printed paper.
In this context, much of what Jeff Jarvis says is applicable in the Indian context also. Some of the newspaper sections can be moved entirely online with support for personalisation. The printed paper can work as a window to the various sections and stories online. For example, each story in print must have a number which allows me to easily find that story online and send it to friends or colleagues at work, and perhaps, blog it. Also, as a user, I can set up my own e-paper (or m-paper) online with preferences for different sections especially, in finance and entertainment. SMS can be used to alert me to local events and breaking stories. Taken together, these will create a much close relationship between the reader and the newspaper allowing for monetisation through advertisements which can much more tailored.
Tomorrow: Better Times?
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