Does Print Media in India have an expiry date?

Source: Flickr - Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums  
Source: Flickr - Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums  

Across the world, print media is facing a serious existential threat. India seems to be one of the few countries in the world where print circulation is on the rise. Is print media in India thriving, or just delaying the inevitable ?

Also Read : Part I - A Brief History of Newspapers

Print in India

Print media in India seems to be doing pretty well and bucking the global trend of decline in circulation. According to the Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC) report in May 2017, print circulation has grown from 39.1 million copies in 2006 to 62.8 million in 2016 -- a growth of 60% in 10 years. This, while print media is struggling in every major economy across the world.

Growth of media and entertainment in India (Source: Businessline)
Growth of media and entertainment in India (Source: Businessline)

The above illustration shows the projected growth of all media forms in India from 2017-2020. While broadcast and print would continue to grow over the next few years, their proportion when compared to the total size of the media industry would shrink (and would continue to shrink as digital grows). The reason why print in India is doing particularly well is due to 2 main reasons --

  • Growing literacy rates -- With every state government and the central government focussing on educational reforms, a lot more Indians are going through formal education today, than ever before. As this educated workforce comes of age, they will consume more news. Print being the most affordable of all forms and easily accessible, will continue to see its circulation grow over the next few years.

  • Robust distribution network -- India is one of the very few countries in the world where the newspaper is delivered to your doorstep every day. This zero-friction availability of newspapers is a significant contributor to its continued growth.

That being said, India is seeing a surge in smartphone adoption and is expected to hit 500 million smartphone users over the next 4-5 years.

Projected smartphone users in India 2017-2022. 
Projected smartphone users in India 2017-2022. 

This coupled with the internet penetration across India would ease the access to digital news even in the remotest villages of India. The parallel disruption in the telecom sector would bring fast data networks across the country at very affordable rates. Also, by 2022, the number of internet users in rural India would surpass the urban internet users.

Rural / Urban internet users in India 2017-2022. (Source : Businessline)
Rural / Urban internet users in India 2017-2022. (Source : Businessline)

Together, the smartphone adoption and internet penetration present a huge opportunity for digital news, and in particular vernacular content. On an average, smartphone users in India spend about 200 minutes a day on their smartphones. This is likely to increase as better content and messaging options evolve. A lot more users would read news primarily on their smartphones which would have a direct impact on the print circulation. This coupled with increasing raw material costs of paper and ink, would adversely affect print media in the coming years.

The future of print media in India

While digital media continues its relentless march as the primary medium for content, I think print media in India would continue to keep its loyal user base (and maybe even grow it) for the next 3-5 years. However, the current state seems similar to the state of photography in the 90s and early 2000s. Initially, it was mockery about the medium, followed by a stiff fight for survival by film photographers and companies. Today, It would be hard to find a photographer who shoots with film.

During a recent conference, I was discussing the growing circulation of print media in India with Raju Narisetti. He listened patiently and then asked me an intriguing question -- "How many people do you know who are in their 20s and continue to read a newspaper". Honestly, I couldn't think of a single person.

In my opinion, print in India would probably continue to grow for a few years from now, but the pipeline is drying up very fast. 10 years from now, I wouldn't be surprised to hear that print circulation in India is declining and a lot of publications are either shutting down or moving completely to digital.

Do you think print will continue to grow in this digital age? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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