The debate between print and digital has been never-ending. But media executives believe that both must complement each other without compromising on credibility and profitability to make a business successful. This was one of the key takeaways from a CEO roundtable at the recently concluded Indian Media Leaders eSummit, organised by WAN-IFRA.

Moderated by Debarati Guha, Director, Programs for Asia at Deutsche Welle (DW), the panel discussion featured CEOs of leading news media companies in India, including Jayant Mammen Mathew, Executive Editor and Director of Malayala Manorama; Samudra Bhattacharya, CEO Print at HT Media; Pawan Agarwal, Deputy Managing Director of DB Corp.; and Sitaraman Shankar, CEO of The Printers Mysore Ltd, and Editor at Deccan Herald.

Changes in reader behaviour

The media landscape in India has changed in the last couple of years. According to Guha, youths have lost trust in traditional news and are looking for alternatives, mostly social media. These changes in reader behaviour have also been a catalyst for changes in strategy.

“In the early stages, readers spent more time on print, digital and television, at least in South India. But short videos started gaining momentum and I think it is the future for at least one generation of viewers or readers,” says Mathew.

See also: How Brut India is engaging Gen Z through short-form videos

He said that media companies should provide a mix of everything that the consumer needs and include more multimedia elements. “We have to make it crisp and interesting for the viewers.”

Meanwhile, Agarwal says the youth have become more interested in politics and local news in the last three years, even though the time spent in consuming news is low when compared to a 40- or 50-year-old. With the penetration of smartphones in rural India, content consumption has risen. But at the same time, delivering content across different mediums has become difficult.

Shankar, however, shared a different perspective. He said the credibility of print is very high today, thanks to the density of misinformation in social media.

He said that their digital operations mostly feed on print. Most of the big stories are broken by the print team and that it is carried over to digital. “The idea is to marry the credibility of print with the speed of digital. I think that’s the key.” But he cautioned that “one small mistake on the print side can linger much longer and we are more responsible in that sense”.

Bhattacharya concurred with Shankar’s views. He said print can leverage its credibility to diversify its brand in digital format. According to Bhattacharya, this helps the brand retain its existing print customers and attract consumers who seek credible information.

AI and business model evolution

Many news media firms are on their toes after the penetration of artificial intelligence (AI). But Mathew shared that all of us are “jumping the gun too much on AI”.

“I think AI will be useful for non-editorial first. It will take a while for editorial and AI to come together,” he said, adding that a wait-and-watch approach to AI is necessary.

But in terms of changing business models, Mathew said that many publishers will continue to start charging for content by adding a paywall to their digital assets to make people understand the value of content and journalism. “There’s no cheap journalism,” he said.

He added that people are willing to pay, and content from newspapers should also come behind a paywall – something that many newspapers are doing currently.

Mathew said that Malayala Manorama is experimenting with the premium content and paywall right now. “I think that would be an additional source of revenue and that’s the right approach.”

“Once everybody starts charging for content, the quality of journalism will go up.”

– Jayant Mammen Mathew, Executive Editor and Director, Malayala Manorama

Bhattacharya concurred with Mathew’s view of paid content. He also stressed the profitability of print as a business. “It may not be growing at the same rate as something else is growing, but it is growing. Readership and revenue are increasing.”

Shankar shared that the business model of any news organisation should be centred around the reader. “In return, we want to be paid better for what we do.” He said they recently raised the cover prices of its daily newspaper and “we’re very happy with what we did”.

Driving traffic to platforms

Increasing traffic to news platforms is one of the main focuses of publishers. Most media companies rely on third-party platforms or social media handles to drive traffic to their websites. Direct visitors are also increasing, according to Mathew and Bhattacharya.

But Agarwal says that traffic from platforms is taking a nosedive. Content is optimised so that viewers can consume it without leaving the platform. Although a small percentage, direct traffic is increasing and loyal. He believes that it will be valuable in the times to come.

Shankar shared that their data shows print-centric digital stories drive more direct traffic, and it has been growing well, apart from traffic from aggregator sites. This also shows how data plays a vital role in assessing the engagement levels and user preferences, which could also be leveraged to identify new revenue streams.

For Shankar, data is the new oil. With the help of data, Deccan Herald was able to identify stories that could be promoted and sections that were doing well in terms of readership/viewership.

“We have an online-only opinion section and that does fairly well. In fact, I think the engagement time is about three times as much as in a normal news story,” he said, adding that data plays a big role in terms of analytics.

Bhattacharya concurred, stating that almost every organisation has learned to use data to their benefit.

Bringing youngsters back to print

During the discussion, Guha asked the panellists to share some best practices to bring the younger generation to read printed newspapers.

“It’s a difficult job,” Agarwal said, adding, “We are trying to strike a balance between and 18-year-old and an 80-year-old. We try to make our stories easily understandable to both the age groups and in between.”

However, Shankar said that they relaunched a kids’ paper in an attempt to build the habit of reading among kids. He also believes that it is a challenge. “I think the route of going through the school paper and then slowly building an interest in reading and analysing it could help,” but he cautioned that it was uncertain.

The post How Indian CEOs prioritise their strategies to balance print and digital appeared first on WAN-IFRA.