Friday, September 19, 2008

Reader engagement vital

Earlier this week, I was at the IFRA India 2008 Sixteenth Annual Conference at the Marriott Resort Hotel in Goa that formally opened with the CEO-Publishers Conclave, a first for an IFRA India conference. Visitors to the conference were greeted by rain and a steady wind; it is the fag end of the south west monsoon in these parts.

At the foyer leading to Ballroom Saloon 3 where the CEO-Publishers Conclave was held, was a rack exhibiting India’s leading daily newspapers. The numbers of newspapers in India is just growing, very different from the developed world where the sheer survival of the newspaper is in question.

Although digital platforms are gaining importance, there will be no migration from paper to digital, no ‘either-or’, says Reiner Mittelbach in his opening address, adding that although Internet is eating into traditional models, newspapers will survive and that the present is more about “multimedia, multichannel and multiplatform.” That surely would have provided heart to some.

The picture in the newspaper publishing business is not as rosy as it was a few years ago with competition between newspapers hotting up in different markets, says Thomas Jacob, deputy CEO, IFRA. Only newspapers with the right leadership and the best quality management will emerge winners, he is convinced.

The highlight at the inaugural was the speech by Prof Dipak Jain, Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University. Delivering the keynote address at the CEO-Publishers Conclave, Prof Jain lists the four main global challenges in the coming decade for the newspaper publishing industry as changing customer demographics, search for talent, ‘hyper’ competition, and ‘nano-second’ culture.

“The world is becoming bipolar. For example, while in India, we have 550 million people who are 24 years or younger, the fastest growing segment, in the developed world the majority is 60 years and older. We need to ask what kind of people we need for the industry. Retention is a serious problem that will not disappear. A formal training in journalism and media management is necessary,” he says. Referring to ‘hyper’ competition and to the success of Google, he says that the customer who provides media revenue is important. Value creation is as important as value capture, he adds.

Explaining how the ‘nano-second culture’ has made newspapers irrelevant in terms of breaking news, Prof Jain says: “In the future, the newspaper should become a communication medium. Readers should contribute and be made co-creators of the reading experience. The more we engage readers, the more successful we will be.”

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