All the news that’s fit to charge

November 27, 2012

In any account of the major trends in the 21st century, the word “convergence” is bound to be included. Take the following three: news, entertainment and advertising. What does convergence mean in this context?

Perhaps the most obvious dimension of convergence is news and entertainment —so much so that, if you want to say something serious, you need to preface it with a warning like “not from the Onion”.

Convergence between advertising and entertainment is also noticeable. It’s not just the half-time commercials during the Super Bowl: it’s also, for example, the many YouTube channels with content supported by large corporations and well-known brands.

Perhaps less apparent is the convergence of news and advertising. There is of course Google news and the related content aggregators whose services are a means to attract eyeballs. But the more interesting — and direct — instance of convergence comes from India.

A recent story in the New Yorker (Oct 8, 2012) reports that “India is one of the few places on earth where newspapers still thrive.” Why? “The success of Indian papers is a product of their unorthodox philosophy.” “We are not in the newspaper business, we are in the advertising business,” says Vineet Jain, managing director of the Times of India. In fact, ninety percent of their revenues come from advertising.

What is “unorthodox” about the paper’s strategy is their “Bombay Times” section. It’s full of stories about celebrities — paid by the celebrities themselves! It all started when Jain had his Eureka moment: “Why these guys are not advertising in my paper is because I’m giving them free P.R.”

I guess their motto ought to be something like “all the news that’s fit to charge.”

By Luis Cabral, with thanks for Dave Backus for the pointer.

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