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Will Indians pay to read online news with credibility?

Top journalists and co-founders of popular news websites discussed the issue of paywalls and revenues at a media festival organised by School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Apeejay Stya University

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(left to right) Sanjoy Majumdar, Abhinandan Sekhri, Ritu Kapur and Ashutosh

The influence of advertising on news has been debated for a long time. In the age of digital marketing, certain news websites have taken the initiative to break the trend by asking readers to pay for the news they read online, largely to reduce the organisation’s dependence on ad revenue. But at a time when news is readily available on social media platforms, is new India willing to pay for credible news websites?

At SJMC’s recently held annual Media Festival, Sanjoy Majumdar, Managing Editor, BBC, said at a panel discussion, “In the US, about 70 per cent of the news organisations have started placing content behind a paywall—in some cases, you can read five articles for free, and then you have to pay. The other model is that of subscription. In India, we are still grappling with it. Some of the legacy brands have started implementing paywall.” Majumdar was the moderator for the session that had Abhinandan Sekhri, CEO & Co-founder, Newslaundry, Ashutosh, Senior Journalist and founder, Stya Hindi and Ritu Kapur, CEO & Co-founder, The Quint, as panellists.

The need of the hour could be to change the consumer behaviour of people like us who like freebies, something Newslaundry, a subscription-based portal, has been working on for over a decade. “Our experience has been transformative. We have managed to change consumer behaviour. The challenge has been relentless. Why we launched with a subscription model was because it was clear that the ad model was killing television. News cannot survive in the ad model,” Sekhri said.

One of the ways of influencing this change in behaviour is by providing the readers content that is “unique, distinct and credible”, added Kapur.

News websites in the country have been experimenting with different revenue models to attract subscribers and gain direct traffic to their pages. The Quint, for instance, has been following a membership model. In the case of content in a vernacular language, however, people have been found to be less likely to pay, Ashutosh pointed out. Stya Hindi, on the other hand, earns revenue through YouTube videos, membership and crowdfunding in live sessions.

With millions of users consuming news on social media—although there is contention about its credibility and bias—can digital news portals dissociate themselves completely from big tech? Kapur stressed, “We have to strategise our relationships with social media platforms. It is really important to put out the counter-narrative. It is a real challenge to compete with existing video platforms like YouTube, for instance…We need to be mindful of the difference between a journalist and a content creator.”

Disha Roy Choudhury is a Senior Correspondent at Apeejay Newsroom. She has worked as a journalist at different media organisations. She is also passionate about music and has participated in reality shows.

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