Digital Journalism Start-Ups in India
This report was published by the Reuters Institute of Journalism at the University of Oxford, United Kingdom, on May 26, 2016. Its authors are Rasmus Kleis Neilsen, director at the Reuters Institute, as well as Arijit Sen, journalist and former Reuters Institute fellow.
The report examines the rapidly changing field of digital journalism in India. It presents the case studies of six start-ups which represent different approaches and styles to digital journalism in the country: The Quint and Scroll.in which are ‘for-profit content-based’ organisations; Dailyhunt and Inshorts which are ‘for-profit aggregation-based’ start-ups; and Khabar Lahariya and The Wire which are non-profits.
The report finds that while these start-ups embody new “editorial priorities, distribution strategies, and funding models,” the competition from well-established legacy media organisations, building sustainable business models and increasing reach continue to be challenges – across regions and languages.
This 48-page document is divided into five chapters: Introduction (Chapter 1); For-Profit Content-Based Start-Ups (Chapter 2); For-Profit Aggregation-Based Start-Ups (Chapter 3); Non-Profit Start-Ups (Chapter 4); Conclusion (Chapter 5).
The report states that increasing access to mobile internet and the low cost of smartphones will lead to more users accessing the internet through their phones in the near future. According to data by the Internet and Mobile Association of India, the country was the second largest market in the world in terms of internet users in the year 2015. While it took 15 years (1995-2010) to get India’s first 100 million internet users, it took only three more years (2011-14) to reach 200 million; one more to reach 300 million (2015) and then another year to reach 400 million (2016).
With 400 million internet users and a total digital advertising revenue of $975 million, the average revenue per user in India is only $2.5, compared to $5 in China. In addition, newspapers are heavily subsidised by advertising, making them available at minimal costs. This makes it difficult for digital news outlets to attract paid subscriptions and advertising to increase their reach.
For-profit start-ups like Scroll.in and The Quint might struggle to face the competition posed by legacy media houses like Times of India, Dainik Bhaskar and others. These organisations are well-established with “strong brands, editorial resources, and financial firepower.” The task of getting both readers and advertisers to pay is made more challenging by the fact that global companies like Facebook and Google attract the majority of advertising funds.
The report states that aggregation-based start-ups like Inshorts and Dailyhunt focus primarily on their mobile apps. Their primary competition are global technology companies which provide similar services; as Virendra Gupta, founder of Dailyhunt, puts it, “the real competition is Facebook.” For these start-ups which depend heavily on technology, the challenge is in overcoming technical barriers, when most internet users in India use cheap smartphones, have limited data access, and have lesser literacy in English.
Non-profit start-ups like The Wire and Khabar Lahariya face competition from for-profit as well as State or politically sponsored media. Moreover, large international grants are harder to come by in India, made worse by the low financial support non-profits get for news from individuals or foundations. Some sponsors or individual donors might also pressurise these start-ups to cater to their personal interests and values.
Despite the promising rise in the number of internet users in India, digital start-ups often face the same problems as traditional media outlets. Professional malpractices like ‘paid news’, or the possibility of being acquired by politically powerful players – as seen the case of FirstPost, which was taken over by Reliance Industries Limited when it took control of Network18 Media & Investments Limited in 2014 – continues to be a possibility even in the field of digital journalism.
Most digital start-ups are keen to begin reporting in Hindi and other regional languages to increase their audience. Despite this – the report states – the digital media outlets which have been discussed are primarily in the English language, urban-oriented and digital. They are yet to take into consideration the economic inequalities, urban/rural divides and differences across language and caste that are widely prevalent in the Indian society.
Focus and factoids by Shreya Ramachandran.
Arijit Sen and Rasmus Kleis Nielsen
Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, University of Oxford, United Kingdom
26 May, 2016