The Internet doesn’t threaten Indian newspapers, TV does.

Here’s an article on Rediff.com about the possibility of newspapers becoming extinct. The premise is that the Internet as a distribution channel, with online newspapers, blogs, wikis and message boards as the content, supported by online (in place of print) advertising, is threatening the very existence of newspapers. According to the article, newspaper circulation is declining, and there’s a vicious circle being formed, with newspapers wanting to shore up revenues by charging advertisers more, who won’t pay until circulation goes up.

In the context of India, though, the threat to the print medium has little to do with the Internet. The penetration of this medium is so poor in India it doesn’t even matter. So from a newspaper’s point of view, blogs, wikis and other online sources of news can take a hike, they don’t even register on the threat radar in this country.

The real threat to newspapers is from Television. From the 24×7 news channels in most major regional languages, and English and Hindi, of course. From the fierce competition among them to provide up-to-the-second updates on everything from cricket scores to the stock market to politics.

The usage model I’m increasingly seeing is: most folks catch up on news throughout the day via TV – or at least in the morning and then during prime time. (which is why the 9PM news bulletin is such a big deal). The next morning they don’t want to see the same news again, this time in print – they’ve already seen that.

What they want is analyses and opinion pieces with regard to that piece of news. They want special reports on a range of topics. Something to complement what they’ve already seen on TV the previous day. That’s the challenge before newspapers today. Content matters more now. I realise that I’ll probably be raising a few hackles here – given readers’ loyalty to newspapers – but the Indian Express seems to be gaining in popularity and readership over the past year. It’s got to do both with the steady improvement in the op-ed section of IE, and the gradual but unmistakable tabloidization of the Times of India. The newspaper is taking the place of the “weeklies” that used to dominate this kind of print content in the 80s and 90s – they’re becoming “dailies” in a different sense.

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