In this Spotlight India series, WARC India Editor Biprorshee Das looks at the country’s print media landscape and why it still holds relevance for both consumers and marketers alike.

This article is part of a Spotlight series on print media in India. Read more

The topic of tackling print has been on my mind for a while now but serious fodder for thought was when I went through our WARC Media report, The Big Picture: Print.published in May – what is it that makes the print medium tick in India, both for readers and marketers? The report clearly stated how digital has dealt a tough blow to print but it also hinted that there is promise for the medium in Asia.

The hint led to this latest Spotlight India edition that asks why print media cannot be written off yet in India. There are challenges, primarily the rise of digital and other channels vying for consumer attention. And yet, the consumer data report accompanying this edition says the print press consumption in India, that has remained higher than the global average, will continue to do so. It is estimated to stabilise at around 56 minutes per day in Q4 2023. Needless to say, consumer interest will feed the marketer’s interest too.

According to the latest Pitch Madison Report, print adex still commands 21% share in India and the report forecasts 11% growth in 2023; interestingly, higher than TV projections.

There are several factors that contribute to print’s run in India. How the medium continues to hold its own has been outlined by our contributors to this edition.

Reading: A good habit that is still here to stay

Perhaps among the most important factors is the idea that reading newspapers is considered a healthy habit. I grew up being told that it was and Malcolm Raphael of The Times Group agrees it’s still a strong morning habit.

He says, “Unlike most other markets, in India, the newspaper still comes to your doorstep every morning. It’s therefore a very strong morning habit. Newspapers here are advertiser-funded. The subscription price is so low that you don’t even feel the pinch. These are two key aspects about why print is so strong in this country.”

Anyone can step into any office in the morning and see all the leading dailies neatly racked up at the reception. It’s an old habit that will die hard.

Let’s get real though. I don’t have my parents and teachers chasing me anymore. I don’t have the time to scan the dailies anymore. Today, there are smart devices and the internet vying for my attention. But there is a generation gap because my father still wants his daily dose of news every morning the old school way.

Raphael agrees it’s a concern. But he is quick to point out that perhaps newspapers are no longer a source of news but have graduated to be a provider of news analyses. So you can get your bite-size news from an app but newspapers will be around to offer you indepth knowledge - something the consumer report also points out as the top reason for readers to be drawn to newspapers (62% of 175 respondents say “detailed news about a lot of topics” is why they choose to read newspapers). Hence, the habit won’t be going away for a while.

The trust factor

The printed word is also a lot more relied upon than other channels. In the era of fake news and digital fraud, print has risen to be among the most credible sources of information.

Basant Rathore of Jagran Prakashan, the largest print media group in India, says, “In an era where content democratisation is the order of the day, citizens naturally gravitate towards mediums that deliver credibility. Apart from providing context, the print engagement quotient gets a boost due to its credibility.”

Every contributor to this edition has categorically mentioned how the credibility of newspapers is much higher than any other medium - not just for readers but marketers as well.

“Studies suggest that print goes a long way in building trust. Typically, when brands face a crisis, they tend to resort to newsprint to explain their POV and come out of the woods,” says Anirban Roy of W+K India.

“When people see print advertising, there is a certain degree of trust – it is not as congested a medium like TV and you can hold the ad in your hand,” shares Sujeet Behra from Carat.

One nation, several languages

What also works in print’s favour in India is the sheer size and diverse nature of the country.

The Census of India of 2001 states India has 122 major languages and 1,599 “other languages”. Now imagine in a country like this, how many of its 1.4 billion people are seeking information in different languages.

According to the latest figures made available by the Office of Registrar of Newspapers for India, the total claimed circulation of publications during 2021-22 is almost 400 million. Of these, only a little over 30 million are English publications; Hindi is a staggering 190 million. Then, of course, you have the other major languages.

This audience is massive and the marketing opportunity immense.

Adding perspective, Rathore says, “If we look at the growth in reach of regional languages versus that of English over the last decade or so, languages have grown at 6x of English at an all-India level. In the 40 lakh plus towns, languages have grown 2x of English and in the rest of India, languages have grown 21x of English.”

Figuring out a digital-physical revenue model

At one’s own peril would digital be dismissed. Experts cannot stress enough the importance of striking the right balance in the media mix today. Sure, there will be instances when one medium trumps the other. The best bet would always be to make the most of each opportunity.

From a reader’s perspective, there are always the e-paper editions of leading dailies in the country. It is, honestly, an option I personally prefer and choose whenever I can. It certainly beats carrying bundles of physical newspapers around, not the online destinations of publications but the digital editions of the newspaper. How publishers monetise this is up to them, of course.

Ajay Dang from the Aditya Birla Group argued that the industry must evolve to a model where both readers and advertisers pay.

“News brands will need to leverage the brand but let digital versions flourish outside the shadow and overhang of the physical print newsroom. They must learn from experiments of the west and evolve models for making readers and advertisers pay for digital,” he declares.

Madison World’s chairman, Sam Balsara, is of the view that the digital versions of newspapers must be promoted further as he offers the following advice: “Our publishers have already done a good job of launching digital versions of their newspapers and many web versions. The time has now come to promote them aggressively, offer a joint package for print and digital, offer digital not on a CPM basis but on the same basis as the print edition, and secure and further build on the brand equity of the newspaper title built over decades. This would also help them retain 100% of what the advertiser pays.”

The reading habit, credibility, engagement potential and the diverse nature of the country, among other factors, continue to inject a strong sense of trust in the print medium in India for both consumers and brands. Readers will turn to print for a more evolved personal experience while marketers will do good to rely on the medium for communication that is trusted and to establish a relationship with consumers that is long-lasting.

Like it is said, “the more things change, the more they stay the same”. I hope you find this latest Spotlight India to be a useful read.