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Print could become smaller in future: Aroon Purie

MUMBAI: With the internet and other forms of digital media growing in usage across the country, traditional media companies today have to reformat how they do business.

This point was made by India Today founder and CEO Aroon Purie during a leadership interview at the media trade event Frames organised by FICCI.

The next big thing for his company is the mobile, which is because there is a revenue sharing opportunity with the mobile operators. “You might not get what you want but there is revenue potential. There are 100 million smartphone users. With 4G coming in, downloading of content will become easier. But the mobile is a different challenge. The editorial approach will be different. You will have to decide on things like how much visual to use in a story, how often you update a story. Stories will be transported across platforms whether it is the internet, print or the mobile. For the mobile, we will use a combination of original content and repurposed stories,” he said.

The company is launching an interactive Twitter debate this week. Subjects and questions will be thrown up using Twitter, added he.

For Purie, the big challenge facing media companies in a digital era is how one aggregates communities and then engages them. For journalists these are challenging times. “Earlier, journalists worked in fixed cycles. Now you have to think 24×7. It is no longer top down. Media has become interactive. Social media can thrash stories done by journalists because there is an audience that might have more knowledge on the subject being reported on. Journalists have to know what they are talking about.”

From a media organisation’s point of view, the opportunity is there to change but it must be done in such a manner that the entire organisation is not disrupted completely. He acknowledged that old businesses including his own were slow to change and adapt. The issue was that traditional media companies were more focused on the old business than on the new emerging businesses.

Like other publications, Purie grapples with the issue of making people pay for online content. “General news has become a commodity. There is so much news available. Some specialised news like stock market news has value. The key is to offer content that consumers cannot live without. The metered payment model has had mixed results,” he stated.

One good thing for him is that measurement has come for online content. “You can see how much content goes viral and how much is re-tweeted. At the same time, there are other factors like marketing and promotion of content. So the popularity of online content is not entirely up to a journalist. Remunerating a journalist based on clicks is difficult. You can get a lot of clicks for rubbish that destroys your brand value. The issue is maintaining a balance between clicks and your brand value. Journalists in this country are well paid.”

He went to add that what people like on the internet is different from what they like offline. “The net moves fast and it is a fluid situation. Today one site is popular. Tomorrow a story is on another site that the readers find attractive and they go there. But we have done well online.”

He also admitted that when the internet bubble was going on, the company overreached itself and suffered losses.

Asked if it was possible for his company today to rebuild completely on a digital platform, he said this was not possible. “For new incumbents, this is possible as they do not have a legacy. At the same time, they also do not have people in the content creation business.”

He added that as part of entrepreneurial management, it is more important to be right than be first. “I don’t subscribe entirely to the first-mover advantage philosophy.”

He also talked about the early days when his company launched ‘Newstrack’ in the 1980s. “This was a news video that people could rent from the local video library. It was a huge success. Nobody apart from Doordarshan was doing news. It was heavily controlled. In fact, there was unfamiliarity with television news. I remember politicians struggling when they were on TV. Later on, broadcasters were allowed to do 20 minutes of news. We did that and then went to on to be a news channel.”

As far as India Today’s e-commerce operations are concerned, he said that this was a holding operation at the moment. “We are waiting for the heat to die down and for things to become rational. We will see how the market plays out over the next couple of years.”

In terms of government regulation, he expressed concerned that the ad cap would have a big impact on the news channel business. “This is a worry. But as far as the internet is concerned, there is no concern. You cannot regulate the internet. China has been trying to do that but is finding the going difficult.”

With regard to what lies ahead, he said that different mediums will co-exist. Print could become smaller which is why building media brands is important. ” If we had focused more on building our brand through different things like holding events and exhibitions, we would have been better prepared for the digital era.”