A recent article in the Economist caught my eye. Newspapers in India are flourishing while elsewhere in Europe, digital media is eclipsing the paper publishing industry. In London, the Evening Standard is now free. Great for job hunters, I suppose.
I’ve worked on many pieces of Indian business both as a designer and a strategist in the last 5 years and have watched the attitude towards digital media shift dramatically. Three years ago, major FMCG brands felt digital media was an irrelevant space to be in because Internet penetration is only at 7% in India and usage on the whole is sporadic across the general population. But two things have changed: we’ve woken up to the power of mobile to deliver services to most segments of society, from the poor to the jet setters, and the online to offline news link has exploded. What Aamir Khan and Amitabh Bachchan blog in the evening is printed in the next morning’s paper.
Still in its nascent stages, it is reasonable to predict that when the growth of educated opinionated visionary bloggers in India reaches critical mass, it will dramatically change the landscape of public opinion on many topics — perhaps to a degree of influence that meets of exceeds papers. The most effective change comes from the grassroots and the rise of citizen journalists has changed the way the world thinks and opened global eyes to realities in localised areas that would have otherwise been contained in that local area or controlled through the filters of established news media channels. Think about the Iran elections, for example. OR the rise of citizen journalism in Africa, mostly powered by mobile phones updating events on twitter and blogging photos as they happen.
This is not to say that I wish print newspapers to be eclipsed by digital media. I simply think that the power of digital media in the hands of the people is a trend we cannot and should not ignore.
However, it would also be a mistake to believe that digital media can be used in isolation. If a brand has developed a mobile or online service, application or tool, do you seriously think word of mouth alone will active mass uptake? Surely not. Take the first launch of Nokia Life Tools, the value of which I shall not opine on in this post. The so-called soft launch of that service was not supported by enough media attention. In this case, it was a service for the poor to teach english literacy and deliver useful news to the poor. But it wasn’t advertised on the radio or in the local papers. Is it any surprise we stopped hearing about it? You can shout about a great concept for only so long before you have to prove its greatness with results.
But I digress. My point is that while digital media has not eclipsed traditional media and while literacy increases and the middle class continues to grow in India, to overlook the power and potential of the digital world is a mistake.