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News Corp’s Raju Narisetti: “The longer Indian media will run scared of charging for content, the harder it will become to solve this issue”

Raju Narisetti_VP Strategy_Photo Credit News CorpNews Corp has been making significant investments in India over the last year, most noticeably in real estate listings company PropTiger, the acquisition of news and data business VCCircle and the purchase of  Bigdecisions.com.

In the third part of the interview, Raju Narisetti, senior vice president at News Corp, spoke with MediaNama about Wall Street Journal downsizing in India, western publications setting up shop in India, challenges in mobile advertising and Harper Collins e-books business.

Also read: News Corp’s  strategy in India and their investment in PropTiger in this first part of an interview. The second part of the interview talks about potential tie-ups between Dow Jones and VCCircle

MediaNama: Could we talk about what is Wall Street Journal’s plans in India? We understand that there’s a global restructuring and how will India be affected? 

Raju Narisetti: Because I’m at the News Corp level, I don’t get involved in the operating companies’ strategies or execution. They’ve announced a couple of things. One, there will be a global print product and I think they’re launching some time in the fall. The Europe and Asian editions which were different from the U.S. edition, I think they’ll end up having a global product. Two, like all media companies should do, they need to rationalize clashing resources. I think I read a story that you guys (MediaNama) wrote that a couple of their employees are being let go.

Dow Jones and Wall Street Journal, globally, has probably 1,700-1,800 people. So in that scale of things these are relatively – I wouldn’t say insignificant because they impact people’s lives – but from a scale point of view, News Corp would not get involved in that. 

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India has always been extensively covered by the Journal and Dow Jones. I don’t think that is changing. For a while they had both an India blog and an India landing page.

I think the reality of modern day journalism digitally, is that there is a lot of sideways traffic, and there isn’t really traffic for landing pages. I think they’ve discovered the India Real Time blog’s landing page where you artificially curate a bunch of things around India is not necessarily attracting a lot of people.

So I think they’ve prioritized resources there and said we’ll take away the landing page. But there’s no real change in coverage of India. 

MediaNama: What kind of content works in the Indian context? We see a lot of global news organizations which come to India but usually rehash the global stories on their India page and not necessarily cover Indian news for Indian people 

Raju Narisetti: Again, I’ve not been involved in journalism and I haven’t been for a couple of years. So I’m not particularly qualified to talk about it. I think one of the reasons why you’re seeing a lot of western news brands set up India entities is because they look at their global audience and see a big chunk of their audience coming from India and they think there’s an opportunity if they double down on that,  and see if they can scale it and monetize it.

I’m not sure that the model has been proven, in the sense that just because you’re getting a lot of people India to your global site, you then try to put them into a kind of Indian ghetto where you do more about India and then scale that business, that may or may not work.

Because if I’m a person interested in business in India and have a global view, I actually want to go to the Wall Street Journal main site and decide what I want to read myself rather than be forced go to WSJ India because of my IP address and then decide that I don’t want to be here.

So that’s an interesting thing you’ll see and everybody’s trying it. But what’s more interesting for me is that, almost everyone who’s doing digital in India are putting all of their bets on the advertising model and I’m not seeing any innovation in business models at all so far. Be it in launches or Indian satellites of their brand. Unfortunately, we know how the advertising story will end.

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Because supply in journalism is going to be infinite. New brands, new people and new journalism. If I’m an advertiser, I have increasingly more choices to advertise. So the CPMs (cost per thousand impression) will continue to fall. So I’m not seeing anything which makes me go “here is someone who’s trying to innovate on the business model”.

I’ve seen a lot of ex-journalists try new things. As leaders of previous news organizations, a lot of people follow their curation or their thought process and that somehow they think they can turn it into a business. I’m not necessarily seeing it. More power to them if they can. 

And the longer Indian media will run scared of charging for content or say “nobody else is doing it and we can’t do it” the harder it will become to solve this issue. 

MediaNama: You had previously said that  30% of Wall Street Journal’s traffic comes from mobile. What is the number now and what is News Corp’s strategy for mobile for its publications? 

Raju Narisetti: It varies with brand. I would say for our big brands, about 55-60% of their digital traffic is mobile only already. That number will continue to grow. My personal feeling is that number will be 70-80% in the next few years as most of us live our lives on mobile. So the startegies vary for brands, but the principle is the same which is the subscription model. So you read the Wall Street Journal or the Times of London or The Sun on a phone, tablet, print or a website, it will be the same subscription.

The challenge in mobile is advertising. Digital formats and ad innovations is lagging and that challenge is not particular to  us and everybody is going through that. There is already a widening gap between percentage of your audience on phones and percentage of your digital revenues on phones.

Hopefully we’ll see some innovations because things like banner ads or display ads don’t work. Display ads work very well on tablets because it’s a full page and you can actually mimic the newspaper experience.  On phones, the full page thing is still much more intrusive which actually interrupts your reading. And on phone it’s multiple visits for short duration in and out.

So I think we need to rethink advertising as well, but unfortunately most publishers, including us, have left that responsibility to the ad industry. The ad industry hasn’t solved it so everybody is trying to figure it out now.

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We think the native advertising model works well on phones as well because there’s sponsored content and they will be clearly labeled and that’s part of the stream of news. It’s not as intrusive as an ad in your page.

MediaNama: What is Harper Collins digital strategy? What kind of trends are we seeing in e-books?  

Raju Narisetti: E-books continue to grow and Harper Collins is very active there. Last year we acquired Harlequin India, which is romance novel publisher in India and they publish Mills and Boon. That particular genre there’s a lot of more e-books being consumed because people read 10-15 books a month. So the effort has been to embrace that brand.

Harper Collins is one of our best run companies and we are particularly happy because we are the U.S. publisher of Harper Lee’s new book “Go Set a Watchman”. That book is a prequel of sorts to Kill a Mockingbird. So that’s going to be a record in terms of preorders and we’re pretty excited about that. So that business continues to be pretty strong for us India.

We recently introduced Collins education and we’re getting into the education book space as well. The books business in India is a tough one by nature simply because of the number of book sellers, the distribution costs. 

The advantage of Harper Collins India is that we can leverage the back lists of all the great books and authors we have worldwide to which we have the rights. And a lot of books that we sell tend to be the back lists.  

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MediaNama: Is Harper Collins looking to get into publishing in vernacular and Indian languages? 

 Raju Narisetti: I must confess that I’m not fully familiar with all the titles and prints they have. But they do have a some languages.

There are issues around genres and pricing because a lot of books, even by Indian standards, are very low priced. There’s the distribution challenge and there are issues there, but a large part of India consumes information, fiction and non-fiction in local languages. I think the Harlequin books and Mills and Boon have more of an opportunity in that space. 

But the bulk of our business remains in English because the bulk of the industry in India also still an English dominant business. So we are focused on that, but Indian languages is not going to be a huge priority. 

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