India faces a unique problem. It has an ever growing digital population which is steadily moving away from traditional methods of consuming content but at the same time is hungry for more.
The problem with digitization
This has caused quite a bit of stir in the print media industry, which has seen a drastic change in its business model over the years. Moving towards and investing heavily in the digital space has been the status quo for quite some time.
Every major newspaper has an app and a website which it continually tries to improve. They try to be ahead of the curve by posting timely updates and engaging content (*cough* Taimur *cough*).
The end goal is to recapture the market that was lost due to digitization and the rise of a general preference for shorter, crisper content.
But, there still exist problems with the digital space. The infrastructure is not developed enough so as to completely fill the gap left behind by its predecessors like newspapers. Issues, primarily related to network coverage still exist.
As a result, an alternative idea has popped up, why not make newspapers free?
Hear me out, it’s not that bad an idea.
The way the wind is starting to blow
In recent years, newspapers have started to make more and more money from advertisements (*cough* 3-page ads in TOI *cough*) rather than subscription fees. All that subscription fees do is create a filtering mechanism for the audience and then allow advertisers to target potential customers better.
Given the fact that online newspapers are more or less free, subscription fees are quickly becoming a thing of the past. And here is where free newspapers come in.
They have already worked in countries like the UK, where the free daily called ‘Metro’ was a big hit and was even profitable. Why you ask? It’s all in the advertisements.
Free Newspapers or ‘ freesheets’ work on a purely advertisement based model. They contain highly attention-grabbing, short and crisp stories that hook and engage viewers and then serve as a funnel towards to the ads that are printed.
These ads are not specific since the advertisers are not really aware of the exact demographic details of the readers. They are instead very generic and mass based. Check out this article for more about the business model of a free newspaper.
But, even though they are able to succeed, they are highly susceptible to the market. In general, they can fail for example in a recession, where people lose purchasing power, thus making advertising useless on them. No advertising, no free newspaper business model.
The ‘India’ problem
But specifically in India, there exist two problems. First of all, the rampant illiteracy which disqualifies a large portion of the population from acting as consumers for newspapers.
Secondly, for advertisements to work, a massive chunk of the population has to have a disposable income which is a distinct impossibility in a country where people still live hand to mouth.
Even if you consider the rapidly growing population which has a disposable income, freesheets still have to compete with the burgeoning digital space. Because people prefer to spend their income on things like hardware and data, which is becoming increasingly cheaper and allows them to access more content than a newspaper.
All in all, free newspapers have a difficult and uncertain future in India. They might appear in the form of free online news but a physical paper which is free of cost seems like a distant dream.
Image Credits: Google Images
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