A seasoned journalist and an investment banker, Mano Sabnani was recently in the country to train Bhutanese media professionals. He shares with Business Bhutan reporter Saraswati Sundas the way forward for the Bhutanese media industry.
Q. As a media expert, what is your speculation of the current media scenario in Bhutan?
My view is that there are currently far too many newspapers in Bhutan. Given the small population of less than a million people and the smaller advertising market, it is not possible for all the newspapers to be profitable. Hence there will be a shakeout in the industry; some newspapers will fail and close their operations while some will survive and grow. It is to be hoped that the editorially-best newspapers will survive. The newspapers that will survive will have their own niches, in terms of coverage and audience. They will keep costs low by going online and keep print run to a minimum. There may be a need to increase cover price to achieve breakeven.
Q. What do you think is the biggest challenge for the media industry in Bhutan?
Media is changing worldwide and young audiences prefer to read everything online. The challenge for Bhutan is to reach the young audiences through the internet (computers; mobile smart phones etc). It is the only way for a rugged, sparsely populated country like Bhutan.
Q. What is your advice to media professionals in the country?
My advice for newspaper editors and managers is to raise their cover price to at least meet their costs and at the same time to put their newspapers online and make them available at a lower price that the print version.
The TV station has a monopoly, so for them, the need is to improve quality all the time. Otherwise they will lose out to cable television. For radio, they need to have their own respective focus of coverage and audience.
Q. What were the issues raised by the representatives of the media industry during the two day workshop which was held recently?
Several newspapers are losing money and also the private radio stations. The papers face high printing and other costs while the cover price is too low. So they are losing money on every copy they print. On the other hand, the splintered market means advertisers avoid newspapers. The private advertising market is also too small. The cover price of the newspapers doesn’t cover the costs. On the other hand, the advertisement volume is too low with the main advertiser being the government. So most, if not all the newspapers are losing money. How long can a newspaper company survive this way?
Q. Your spoke of digital media as an alternative for the on-going problems with the media in Bhutan. What is the way forward?
Good journalism is still needed in this world, but the medium is changing to digital. The internet is environment friendly and low cost. Young people prefer to get their news and views online, through websites, email, Facebook and Twitter.
Old fashioned newspapers are high cost and expensive to distribute, especially in a country like Bhutan. Young Bhutanese will get their news feeds from online sources; this is the rising trend.
However, there is no one solution to the problems that the media houses in Bhutan are currently facing. The media houses are facing an uphill task; contents have to be improved, costs must be lowered and more advertising revenue has to be obtained.
Q. What advice do you have for aspiring journalists in the country?
Young people should focus on being good journalists. Content will be king, always. So good content will have an audience. That audience may not be coming through newspapers: it could be the internet or radio or online TV. It is going to be a tough industry, where only the passionate will make careers