During the course of two days in Manila, nearly 300 media executives from 24 countries and more than 80 Asian news media organisations gathered at the Publish Asia 2016 Conference, organised by WAN-IFRA (World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers), to hear experts from South East Asia, India and Oceania talk about case studies and the way forward for print in an increasingly digital ecosystem.
As the first session ‘Around Asia in 60 Minutes’ concluded, one could almost hear a collective sigh of relief, as most of the speakers agreed that despite increased internet penetration in the region and the exponential rise in the mobile platform, print either continues to grow (albeit at a low rate), or has reached a plateau – decline was not the issue, yet.
Another encouraging trend to have emerged at this session from a print standpoint was a growth in revenues coming out of the non-metropolitan areas. For example, Azrul Ananda, CEO of the Indonesia-based Jawa Pos Group, said that although ad spend among Jakarta-based newspapers has decreased, the circulation and revenues derived from publications in non-metro newspapers has increased. This is the case in India too, where there is a notable increase in newspaper circulation in smaller cities, especially in the regional press. This growth was partially attributed to lower internet and smartphone penetration compared to the metropolitan areas.
However, given that internet and smartphone penetration is rising, publishers were well aware of the small window of opportunity they have to innovate and find ways of increasing revenue and reducing overall costs. Ways to achieve this fell into four major areas.
1) Diversify current revenue streams and create new ones
Although most publishers admitted that print continues to be the major earner for their respective organisations, there is a need to create new revenue streams and modify existing ones in order to compensate for decreasing revenues. To this end, several media groups have established new off-shoots. The Star Media Group in Malaysia has dabbled in experiential marketing and recently its events and exhibition subsidiary, Cityneon Holdings, acquired the entire share capital of Victory Hill Exhibition, which holds the rights to operate, market and promote Marvel characters; this initiative has boosted revenues significantly. Meanwhile, the China-based Guangzhou Daily has leveraged its brand equity to launch new ventures in outdoor advertising, real estate and investment and finance. Another option, proposed by Nikolay Malyarov, EVP Chief Content Officer, PressReader, was “repackaging content”, giving the example of the New Zealand-based magazine Everyday Dish which has created a profitable website offering recipes that have been published in earlier editions of the magazine.
Ultimately, what came across during the Publish Asia 2016 conference was the fact that print does have a sustainable future – but to secure it, publishing houses must innovate, and not be afraid to take risks.
2) Explore new platforms
Parin Mehta, Head of Strategic Partnerships, Google, identified chat apps as the new medium of choice, although with ad blockers on the rise, this may change. Mehta also advocated the use of integrated apps for publishers, with apps such as FlipKart. In line with this trend, Wong Chun Wai, Group MD and CEO, Star Media Group, spoke of how, given increased mobile penetration, his Group has re-launched its mobile video platform, making it “the first comprehensive mobile TV with video news stories”; adding that “the growth of online video is now a revenue driver for the future, for both consumers as well as advertisers.” According to Ramakrishnan Laxman, Head of Digital, ABP News Network in India, his organisation is creating platform specific content, because “social media is the new homepage”, adding “the mobile phone will become the primary source of media consumption.” This has resulted in the TV network creating a web series, videos specific for social media, and e-newsletters for chat apps. Native advertising, on the other hand, remains strong, as Jennifer Cheng, Regional Advertising Sales Manager, APAC, The New York Times (NYT) emphasised, showcasing a wide range of native and content marketing initiatives that the NYT has undertaken, many of them involving the use of virtual reality which is gaining traction globally, a result of which the company launched its virtual reality app.
3) Invest in printing machinery, to provide innovative advertising solutions
“There’s money in print advertising,” said Geoff Booth, National Director Production and Logistics, News Corp, Australia, who provided a glimpse into the Australian newspaper market, stating that nearly 70% of Australians read a News Corp Australia print publication. One of their main revenue earners centres on inserts (supplements), and the company sometimes publishes between three and nine in its weekend editions. As a result News Corp has invested millions in upgrading its eight printing centres throughout Australia. This ‘invest in printing capabilities’ mindset is apparent closer to home in India, and Sanat Hazra, Technical Director, The Times of India (TOI), showcased a range of “innovations” that TOI provides advertisers, including butterfly flaps, gatefolds, and front page jackets. Worthwhile mentioning here is the fact that TOI has not only invested in its printing equipment, it has actually manufactured its own printing machines. Hazra is optimistic that print is still the medium of choice for many people in India; the reason for this, he said, is that media such as “TV and radio create an ‘appetiser effect’ for people, who then go to newspapers to check the information they have heard” because “the credibility of newspapers is still very high.”
4) Integrate newsrooms
Several news media groups across the world – from New Zealand to India – are integrating their newsrooms. For Nicholas Dawes, Chief Content and Editorial Officer, Hindustan Times Media and Shayne Currie, Managing Editor, New Zealand Herald, this is definitely the way to go. Dawes recalled that if one had been to the HT newsroom a few years ago, “you could get lost and they wouldn’t find your body,” adding that instead of adopting a “piecemeal” approach, Hindustan Times (HT) literally broke down all of its existing newsrooms (scattered across multiple floors) and built an integrated one.
This transformation, which had its share of challenges, resulted in a decreased silo mindset among journalists, increased productivity thanks to the implementation of improved workflows and Content Management Systems, and eventually led to improved content for both print and digital.
Ultimately, what came across during the conference was the fact that print does have a sustainable future – but to secure it, publishing houses must innovate, and not be afraid to take risks. In the words of Mark Hollands, CEO, TheNewspaperWorks, who also spoke at the conference:
“No print organisation should assume that their future is digital. Somebody else’s future might be digital, but don’t assume yours is.”
Mamun M. Adil is Manager, Business Development and Research, DAWN.