Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Sharing lessons and developing strategies for the days ahead

The WAN-IFRA Conference in India has now become a premier event for publishers, editors, technical directors/ managers and journalists. Although this is the 22nd year of the conference, it really took off after the WAN-IFRA India office was established in 2001. Until then IFRA only had a representative office. With R.V. Rajan shepherding the team in the early years till about 2008, and Magdoom Mohamed ably taking on the baton, the conference has seen attendance grow; it’s now almost become a must-attend event for many. There is a lot of work that goes into organisng the event, most of it done quietly from a nook on the third floor of the SIET College campus in Chennai where the WAN-IFRA South Asia office is headquartered. And come to think of it, it is quite amazing that a small team is able to pull off a huge event like this. A lot of the success, I’m sure, Magdoom and team owe to Rajan, for all the lessons they learnt from him.

One of the reasons for the popularity of the conference is that it usually manages to bring worthwhile case studies from newsrooms and provides perspectives on news businesses and news production from around the world. Recent years have seen the conference having three parallel sessions or summits as they are called – Newsroom, Printing and Crossmedia Advertising. There are also pre-conference workshops that some find quite useful (this time, the workshops are on Data Journalism, New Media Metrics and Densitometry).

Although the attendance has been encouraging, the same cannot be said about support by exhibitors (suppliers to the newspaper industry). Many feel there’s no point spending money to exhibit products when there is hardly any investment in new newspaper presses. Given the situation, it may not be a happy time for several of the ancillary industries that are dependent on presses running. With the newspaper market doing well in India and most of the revenue coming from print, publishers are not really too keen in making heavy investments on the digital front. Digital subscription and digital revenue are not streams they can bank on – at least for now. So, there is a lull. There is no Expo this year but I understand there will be ‘info-tables’ at the foyer for a few exhibitors. 


There are several interesting sessions lined up in Delhi, starting September 16. I am looking forward to listening to T.N. Ninan speak about the blurring line between business editorial. Another interesting session is likely to be the one on the digital transformation of Malayala Manorama and how the ‘print-strong’ publisher is gearing up to face the digital revolution, session to be handled by Mariam Mammen Mathew, COO, Manorama Online. WAN-IFRA’s Antony tells me that a not-to-be-missed session will be the one by Thomas Smolders, head of International Roll-out, Blendle, The Netherlands, on how a Dutch start-up has united newspapers of The Netherlands under a single paywall and what the business model is. The title is quite interesting: iTunes of Print Media. Can alliances between newspapers in India help? Perhaps. There’s a session on that too, by HT’s VP Marketing. I also wish to attend a panel discussion on Day 2, focusing on where our future readers are and whether the reading habit is vanishing among the younger generation. Later that afternoon, there is a session titled, Working Together with Google. Now, that surely will be well attended. 

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