Indian Publishers On How Digital Publishing Has Evolved In 2015

Top Indian publishers share their 2015 observations on digital publishing: digital is growing but print isn't going anywhere, mobile played a big role and will continue in 2016 too

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2015 hit publishers hard across the globe, specifically US and Europe. There wasn’t just one problem but many – battling the click bait articles, emergence of social networks as the new publishers, growing challenges of revenue from mobile, and if these were not enough: Ad blocking broke the backbone of publishers.

According to a last year report, about 16 percent of users in the U.S. block ads. Globally, there are nearly 200 million people stopping ads, 181 million of whom are on the desktop. Almost $22 billion in global ad revenues has been blocked so far in 2015, representing about 14 percent of all global ad budgets, with the U.S.’s final figure for 2015 expected to be about $10.7 billion. This year, the U.S. figure is projected to double, reports Marketing Land.

Ad blocking or ad filtering (removing or altering advertising content on a portal) problem isn’t that rampant as of now in India but publishers are not leaving any stone unturned to scare the reader out of her mobile/web reading experience. “Currently the ad blocking penetration in India is at 2% (4 million) and this number will grow rapidly,” informed Vignesh Vellore, Co-Founder, The News Minute while sharing his thoughts in a previous article on ad blocking which focused on thoughts from Indian publishers on ad blocking.

Indian publishers had their own highs and lows in 2015 – digital with all its potential is still the new kid and print in India continues to grow. To understand it better Lighthouse Insights spoke to some of the interesting minds from the publishing world. Listed below are the edited excerpts of their thoughts shared over email conversations:

Abhijeet Mukherjee, Founder, Guiding Tech

2015 was the year when publishers started realizing that the future of online publishing might not be fragmented, standalone websites as the case is currently. Big companies and platforms like Facebook and Apple became publishers with Instant Articles and Apple News respectively and convinced major publishers to join them. Lot of smaller content companies are currently moving content to sites like Medium. The game has just begun and it will only get interesting from here on.  

Also, 2015 was quite action-packed for the online publishing segment in general. VCs, who used to shy away from content companies, started coming forward and invested heavily. Some lucky ones had big pay days (read Business Insider). There was also a lot of talk around ad-blocking and what it entails for publishers in future. Overall, a fast-paced year for web publishing.

Nikhil Pahwa, Founder, Medianama

This has been a great year, in terms of readership. Traffic has grown substantially, as has social sharing, driving more readership for content. One myth that got busted was that people don’t read long form content online: we’re seeing much more readership for stories that provide more context.

From a social perspective, one of the things we’ve noticed is the gradual decline of traffic from Twitter. There have been instances where particular stories have done exceedingly well, but with the Twitter app now pulling content instead of directing readers to publisher websites, inbound traffic has reduced. This impacts discovery of other content in our publication, which is what we had essentially focused on with our redesign.

Facebook as a source of traffic has grown and continues to grow. Another thing is that for us, the growth in mobile traffic has been additive: there hasn’t been a shift to mobile, only the addition of an increased readership in the early evenings and late night. People appear to be reading more and reading more often.

From a business and overall traffic standpoint for us, this was a spectacular year: easily our best ever, wherein we’ve also seen increased advertiser interest, uptake, as well as an expansion in gross margins. However, we do sense that next year will be a tough one for online advertising for vertical publishers such as us, given the macro environment and a potential increase in competition.

Prasanto Roy, Head of Media, Trivone

Most of Indian publishing remains traditional–traditional print-online mixes, traditional web. A  very few large publishers have had strong digital plays, and they’ve focused on mobile. Digital for Mobile was the clear direction, and the magazine app as mobile content hub was the specific trend being experimented with.

A new wave in 2015 began experimenting strongly with mobile-focused, digital-only startups, and those are great moves, but with no clear visibility into revenue/sustainability yet. Even book publishers are moving there: though Flipkart gave up on e-books, Amazon has been doing well in India and at least one startup, Juggernaut, has focused on digital-only, mobile-oriented publishing.

Saurabh Garg, Head Digital, Haymarket SAC Publishing

2015 has seen a confirmation of the trend of rising adoption of digital especially mobile as the leading source of content consumption. For e.g. Our user base on mobile is now more than desktop, a 60-40 break-up, with mobile user base growing almost 100% .

Publishers like us have started adapting important functions like Content Generation, Marketing & Monetisation to mobile & are shaping their digital strategies accordingly. Advertisers too are increasing spends on digital, beyond pure display into Content advertising, Videos & Mobile. As a publisher our revenue from these sources has jumped almost 200% from a year ago.

Venkatesh Krishnamoorthy, Founder, VirtualPaper

I remember some predictions that in India the e-books will overtake print books by sales in 2015. But the contrary has been reported to be happening. The digital hasn’t arrived yet. The sales figures of Indian English-language publishers range from 3 to 10% for e-books still. Language publishers haven’t found too much success as yet. The print book is going strong and in some developed markets, there were reports that said the print book was back in its glory, taking over e-book in sales, reversing the trend of five years.

Social media has been extensively used by authors themselves to promote their work. I think the trend got part of the author’s strategy firmly by 2015. For long, many Tamil writers have blogs. Publishers, especially English-language publishers, are seeing ROI on social media promotions that they are devising new strategies to engage the audience. And major publishers are using Facebook and Twitter to promote their new releases and are hosting virtual meetups (chats) with authors on Facebook and Twitter.

Sattvik Mishra, CEO, ScoopWhoop

2015 was the year of content. We saw smaller publications (like ours) become big, bigger publications change course and adapt, and a bunch of international publications realizing the potential of the Indian ecosystem.

I think until last year, very few publishers were focusing on creating content for social consumption. But in the last 12 months, publishers who’ve focused on building social traffic have done well.

Anant Goenka, Head, New Media, Indian Express

This year, India witnessed its first Digital Diwali. And more so, at the indianexpress.com. We saw lots of serious interest in the digital space by many brands, who put money where their mouth is.

But one trend evident is that advertisers, audiences and publishers are all creating a distinction between low quality ABCD (Astrology, Bollywood, Cricket and Devotion) sites with just lots of traffic and quality publishers having quality audience.