India Today Chief: No More Investment In Digital Media, Can’t See The Returns

imageAroon Purie (pictured, right), chairman and editor-in-chief at The India Today Group, India’s largest magazine publisher by revenue, spoke today at the 37th World Magazine Congress in London. At a panel discussion on Global Economic and Media Trends: Riding the Storm with William T. Kerr, chairman of the board, Meredith (NYSE: MDP) Corporation; Carolyn McCall OBE, Chief Executive, Guardian Media Group; and John Smith, Chief Executive, BBC Worldwide, Purie said he has decided to not spend any more money on digital media. His disillusionment with the medium mirrors that of several Indian publishers, who enjoy robust profits from their tradional properties and see no point in investing in new media, where they don’t enjoy proportionate returns in the immediate term. And with the economic slowdown eating into their main revenue streams, many are reportedly revisiting their digital operations…

Digital cutbacks, mobile future: You won’t find many newspaper or magazine editors or publishers admit they are cutting back on digital innovation spend, but that’s exactly what Purie is doing: “I have a revolutionary view: I said we’re not going to spend any money on this digital business because I don’t see any money coming in right away and I want to monetise things.” Away from PC-based viewing, Purie sees the real potential in mobile: “There are around 320 million mobile phones in India and we add 10 million every month. That for us is the future.”

Time travelling: Asked about the future for India Today, Purie said he wasn’t, but he stressed the need to continue to invest in editorial content both in print and online. “We’re fortunate in India — the problem we have right now is a short-term problem and it will be resolved. And the advantage of being in a developing country is that you can go to the future and come back; I can see what’s happening in developed countries and imagine it will happen to us.”

Digitally dumb: Purie says he goes on fact finding missions to the west, but he was less than complimentary about the prevailing media business models: “The digital model that is being followed in developed countries is a pretty dumb model. You have… one monopolist newsstand like Google (NSDQ: GOOG) who is giving your content out free and then competing in selling digital advertising. Where is the business model in this?” He said that unless a paid content model could be found, publishers are “all spending money, spending dollars to chase cents”. But Purie has the advantage of time: “I hope that this model is sorted out in the West and by the time it comes to us we have it all up and running.”