THE BLOG
03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

6 Lessons America Can Learn From India's Newspaper Industry

GROUNDREPORT -- The Indian newspaper industry is not just thriving -- it's growing. India's top paper, Times of India, is one of the world's top ten publications by circulation, and more than one million readers ahead of America's biggest newspaper, The Wall Street Journal. Altogether, 11 Indian papers boast more than one million readers, compared to just two in the US.

Buoyed by increasing literacy rates, an expanding middle class, and a massive population, Indian newspapers serve a public with relatively less internet access and more interest in news and politics than their US counterparts. But market conditions aside, American newspapers interested in their own survival would do well to learn from the Indian newspaper model.

Below, a few of the most important lessons from India's print media:


1. (Hyper) Local

Every national Indian newspaper is published in multiple forms each day, because they need to be regionalized in order to appeal to India's distinct states and cities. On the same day, Bangalore's Times of India will report on the delay of its 'fly-over' highway in Electronic City while Rajasthan's Times of India will recount increases in tourism and a drought in the desert. Some papers even have local supplements, like Times of India's Bangalore Today, which covers nightlife and lifestyle news for the city.

All news is local, and national brands have the unique challenge to feel personalized and relevant to millions. Or billions.

2. Short & Sweet
Every publishing platform needs to know its format, from The New Yorker's longwinded explorations to Twitter's 140-character news blips. Indian newspapers are no different, and differ in a major way from higher-brow publications in the US: no continued stories. Most stories are bite-sized; succinct enough to be read in a minute or three, without the decadent commitment to hunting down another 500 words somewhere on B14.

This works for a number of reasons. It jives with new media consumption behavior, which caters to an decreasing attention span and increasing content competition. Psychologically, it neutralizes the mental hurdle of investing an article without knowing if the return will pay off. Add it feels accessible, a digestible morsel that has distilled a big messy issue into its core components.

3. Culture
There's at least one crucial element of the Indian print media market that cannot be easily replicated: India's voracious appetite for political news. A tenet of society from middle class upwards, most Indians discuss local government with the same fervor Americans reserve for debates on reality TV. In order to make relevant conversation at the lunch table, Indians need to stay up to date, and newspapers -- which double as a social status symbol -- serve the purpose.

4. High-Low Hybrid
India's print media is heavily influenced by British press, in all of its scandal-hungry glory. Splashy government scandals and global politics stand side-by-side with news of India's top Bollywood star and directors. This makes for readable, engaging content mixing so-called 'broccoli journalism' (the kind that's good for you) and low-brow guilty pleasure stories. American media would do well to realize that a spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down.

5. Trojan Horse
Open an Indian newspaper, leaf through, and by the third page, you'll be inundated with advertisements. The papers take the 'mullet' approach -- business in front, party in the back -- to sneaking ads into the hands and homes of readers, most of whom can't be reached any other way because of low internet penetration rates. This also means that as circulation continues to soar, papers compete to have the lowest price in the market, staying affordable to consumers.

Not all advertising tricks, however, should be mimicked: many Indian newspaper 'features' are actually veiled advertisements selling a product or service, without any disclaimer.

6. Perspective
Indian newspapers often use a familiar tone that can be shockingly casual -- and patently opinionated -- to a Western ear. Putting aside whether the ideal of 'journalistic objectivity' is attainable, the effect of conversational idioms and distinct political perspective is the creation of a sense of community and shared mores.

As a journalist shames an official's corruption or sex scandal, a community's identity is reinforced, filling the most basic purpose of any news source: establishing a shared sense of social belonging. In India, where the group is emphasized over the individual, this is an even more crucial need.

Rachel Sterne is the founder of GroundReport.com, a news platform, and a recognized speaker and expert on trends in digital news media. She recently returned from researching India's media and tech startup spheres.