Indian Express to charge international readers for online access to content

The Indian Express (Pvt) Ltd is erecting a paywall for overseas readers who want to access its online content. Its online arm, The Indian Express Online Media (Pvt) Ltd, is in the process of formalising its paywall strategy.

"We are courageous with our journalism, but not with our paywall strategy. It will take time...but we are going to put up some kind of a wall for content by the end of the year," said Anant Goenka, whole-time director and head, new media, Express Group.

Besides its flagship daily The Indian Express, the group publishes The Financial Express, and Hindi and Marathi newspapers Jansatta and Loksatta, respectively. The Indian Express Online Media manages the content produced by its print properties online.

Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd, also known as The Times Group, charges international readers for access to the e-papers of its dailies. The Times of India website says that an international reader can access the e-papers of all its seven dailies – The Times of India, The Economic Times, Mirrors, Maharshtra Times, NavBharat Times, Ei Samay and NavGujarat Samay for one month and one year, on a payment of $3 and $20, respectively. However, BCCl has not been aggressively pursuing this line of revenue generation.

Alongside the regular content of its print publications, the group will also be rolling out original content meant only for digital audiences. Called 'Express Originals', this exclusive digital content "will be a high quality, original research and analysis," said Goenka.

Two people close to the development said the company will be investing around Rs 15 crore this year to fuel its expansion plans.

Newspaper publishers in India have pursued a strategy of offering their content for free in the fear that the audiences are not yet ready to pay for news, and gated access to content might limit online readership and hence, dampen digital advertising revenue. In contrast, newspapers in the US are creating subscription models for digital access to their news. In 2015, 77 of the 98 US newspapers with a daily circulation of over 50,000, examined by the American Press Institute, had some form of a digital subscription plan.

In line with the trend at most media companies, Goenka said the group's digital business was minuscule compared to its total turnover. He, however, added that "it is growing at more than 100 per cent every year, and we are very bullish for the next few years".

The group's digital revenue for the financial year 2015-16 is estimated to be around Rs 30 crore.

Quoting comScore data, the group claimed in a March 24, 2016 advertisement in The Financial Express that it had 12.8 million unique visitors for indianexpress.com in January and its closest rival was indiatoday.in with 11 million unique visitors followed by thehindu.com at 8.4 million and hindustantimes.com at 6.8 million.

Media analysts call it a smart move, given that Indian newspapers do not generate much advertising revenue from international markets such as the US and the UK.

A paywall is a good way to monetise content, especially if the news platform is a big brand, said Jehil Thakkar, partner and head, media and entertainment, KPMG India, an audit firm. But in order to be able to exploit its full potential, the site "should have non-commodity content apart from content which will be exclusive to its readers", Thakkar added.

Meanwhile, Goenka has set an ambitious plan for videos wherein he wants his online platforms to clock 15 million views for videos a month (this excludes views on Facebook) from the present five million views a month. The group is shooting animated videos along with the videos shot by journalists and photographers. "We have at least five video stories a day," he said.

Moreover, the group is planning to increase original content on financialexpress.com as well. The online site of the business daily recently launched a new section, feMoney, and has seen a slew of appointments at senior level.

Some of the publications of The Indian Express (Pvt) Ltd compete with The VCCircle Network sites.

This article has been modified to correct some factual inaccuracies and to include additional information.