Rakesh Sharma, the newly appointed President of the Indian Newspaper Society (INS), has outlined his vision for his term, emphasising the need for unity among print publishers to tackle pressing challenges faced by the industry, such as the decline in advertising revenue.
Last month, Sharma, Director, ITV Network and Good Morning Media India, was elected as President of INS for the year 2023-24. He succeeded K Raja Prasad Reddy of Sakshi newspaper. Sharma has been associated with the media industry for the last 50 years and has worked in top positions with leading media houses. He was a Publisher with Hindustan Times for 20 years.
Following his appointment as the new President of INS, BestMediaInfo spoke to Sharma, where we delved into his objectives and plans for his term. We also explored the ways in which publishing houses can adapt to the digital age and evolving reading preferences, the significance of vernacular newspaper consumption, and much more.
While explaining the broader goals and aspirations as the President of the INS for the year 2023-24, Sharma emphasised that he will take the print industry’s concerns to the government.
“There are two streams of revenue for print media: advertising and circulation. To address the challenge of declining ad revenue, newspapers should aim to recover at least the printing cost from cover prices. This is a critical concern for the print industry, and increasing the cover price is the only sustainable solution. Some newspapers in our country charge more than Rs 10…with a significant portion going to trade commissions, leaving publishers with minimal profits. Collaboration among publishers is essential to tackle this issue. The second revenue stream should compensate for the losses in advertising revenue, given the limited options available to advertisers. It's a substantial challenge that needs addressing,” Sharma added.
On being asked about INS’ recent warning to the ad agencies regarding taking strong actions if they don’t refrain from indulging in unfair business practices, Sharma explained that INS has always been against any kind of unfair practices by the agencies and it will continue to do so.
Recently, in a statement, Reddy said that the Government of India has notified the Digital Personal Data Protection Act, 2023 and the intent of enhancing data protection is laudable, but it appears that several clauses within the Act might inadvertently impact the print media industry, which plays a crucial role in disseminating information and upholding democratic values.
While explaining how he perceived these concerns, Sharma said, "The term "protection" inherently implies its purpose, which is safeguarding. Thus, we refrain from making any comments on that. However, we must delve into the Act's particulars. In any scenario where it impacts individuals or organisations, we will make informed decisions following a thorough analysis of the situation.”
We also spoke about a recent statement by The Editors Guild of India where it voiced deep concerns about certain “draconian powers” in the Press and Registration of Periodicals Bill that grant government powers to have more intrusive and arbitrary checks into the functioning of newspapers and magazines.
While commenting on this, Sharma said, "After a hiatus of 160 years, the government is now reviving it and from what I have observed, the bill appears to be greatly advantageous to the industry."
"If the Editor's Guild has any concerns regarding this bill, I urge them to come forward and articulate the specific issues they intend to address. Personally, I find no fault with the bill. I am unaware of the objections raised by The Editors Guild and I believe it would be helpful for them to provide specific details if they have any concerns," he added.
With the print media evolving, we have also witnessed that in the age of digital media, today’s youth often prefer shorter reads over detailed ones.
So, while shedding light on how publishing houses should innovate and adapt to these evolving reading patterns to ensure the continued relevance and engagement of print media, especially among younger audiences, Sharma said that over the centuries, the realm of media has undergone significant evolution. Today, this evolution has led to the consumption of content through various digital platforms, such as laptops and social media. Media outlets serve as dissemination platforms, and it is imperative for them to maintain relevance with their respective audiences in order to sustain their engagement. This adaptability is essential because the expectations, often unspoken desires, and aspirations of readers, not limited to just the younger generation, are constantly evolving.
“You are right that the time is limited. So the media houses will have to give a deep thought regarding what their audiences are looking for. With the pervasive presence of electronic media permeating every facet of our lives, people today are completely aware of global events. So now the reader is more interested in knowing what were the reasons for those events to occur and what are going to be the consequences. Unless the newspapers start dwelling on such in-depth analysis of the news, we will lose our relevance. We will have to be making ourselves relevant to the current age,” he added.
Sharma, while emphasising the importance of vernacular newspaper consumption in India and its role in preserving regional cultures, languages, and promoting local journalism, said that with the increase in the literacy rate in the country, the newspapers have become more valid in the vernacular area. Since the 1990s, people have witnessed a remarkable surge in the popularity of vernacular dailies.
Over the past two to three decades, the growth of vernacular newspapers has significantly outpaced that of their English counterparts, he added.
“I envision a bright future for the vernacular language. Advertisers are increasingly embracing it due to the substantial consumer base residing in our hinterland. We are committed to fostering its growth and will support it, aligned with the efforts of the INS,” Sharma said.