Imagine that in 1979 U.S. newspaper publishers somehow had had access to a time machine that revealed how the advent of the internet would impact their business 30 years hence. What steps might they have taken to ensure continued profitability in an age of instant, free access to information?
In a sense, India has such a time machine in North America and Europe. According to a recent article in Foreign Policy, the newsprint industry in India is expanding so rapidly that it resembles the heyday of newspapers in the United States, which was about a century ago. Back then there was enough demand in New York City alone to support 20 daily papers, one scholar notes. Today, the article quotes a government report, India has more than 62,000 newspapers in circulation, and that number is expected to continue to grow.
Rising income and literacy rates are driving this dramatic increase in print readership in what is the world’s largest democracy. Another key fact: the Internet has yet to become a major player.
According to internetworldstats.com, as of November 2008, there were 81 million internet users, a penetration rate of 7.1%, and as of March 2008, just over three million with broadband connections. A 2009 study by Akamai Technologies reported that India “has an average internet connection speed of just 772 Kbps compared with the global average of 1.5 Mbps.”
Those numbers may seem small now, but in a country with a fast-growing middle class, widespread broadband adoption seems inevitable. Are the consequences of such adoption, as experienced in the U.S., also inevitable for the Indian news publishing industry? Or can news publishers in India learn from the missteps of their U.S. counterparts?
Harjiv Singh, Co- Founder and CEO, International, of Gutenberg Communications, a global agency with offices in New Dehli, Mumbai, Bangalore and Hyderabad, said it’s important to remember that there’s a clear link between democracies – whether it’s in the U.S., UK, France or India – and a vibrant media industry
“India is clearly at the cusp of a phenomenal growth phase in its economic cycle,” Singh said. “It will at certain times leapfrog ahead in terms of technology and at other times forge its own path unique to its needs and aspirations.”
“It will be interesting to watch how India’s media industry evolves given that it has the world’s second largest population,” Singh added.