Nikhil Pahwa is a media junkie, journalist and a blogger. He has covered the digital media business for more than 3 years. He has helped bringing a pan-media perspective to digital media reportage, highlighting industry issues, identifying opportunities and problems, and questioning the efficacy of decisions being made by some large media companies. Nikhil Pahwa undoubtedly is one of the popular names in the business of digital media coverage. Companies refer Medianama for the latest breaking news in the digital media industry. To know more about Nikhil Pahwa and his thoughts on the industry, read on….
Q: When and why did you start blogging? Was it out of curiosity or something else?
A: I enjoy writing and ideating, particularly around content. Early in 2001, I decided against starting a blog – I wasn’t convinced that people would start reading blogs when there were such great discussion forums around. I used to frequent sites like Freshlimesoda.com (FLS), TopWriteCorner.com and Bolt.com, mostly discussing writing, fiction, politics and economics. While developing a personal site in 2003 for hosting my opinion pieces and short stories, I decided to include a blog for the heck of it; friends began visiting, and commenting and it just became a habit. I started blogging in Feb 2003.
Q: What topics do you generally blog about?
A: At MediaNama, we write about business developments related to the telecom and digital media industry in India, particularly sharing our perspective on government policy, business practices and giving feedback to companies about their new products. My personal blog was something of a Mixed Bag – Politics, Economics, Finance, Business Models, Short Stories, and sometimes completely random posts. I haven’t had time to update the personal blog for a while now, but the temptation is always there. I do update on Twitter quite frequently.
Q: Do you ever get stuck when writing an entry? What do you do then?
A: I don’t get stuck often, but when I do, it’s usually for lack of adequate information. I work on it, spend time finding out more details, reading some of my older posts for ideas to follow up on, talking to people. On my personal blog, when I used to get stuck, I’d just take a walk or listen to music. You know you’re in the zone if you’re writing and don’t hear the music playing.
Q: What promotional techniques work best for you and why?
A: Well, nothing beats high quality, original content, and great discussions. Till date, the highest search keywords for MediaNama are “medianama” and “media nama”. If the content is good, it gets spread through word of mouth, through email, facebook and twitter. If you’re looking for a relevant audience, nothing beats quality content – it builds loyalty, seeds discussions, and leads to us getting more inputs for our work.
Q: How important is it for the blogger to interact with their readers? Do you respond to all the comments that you receive?
A: I try to respond to all comments directed at me, and take part in most discussions. For us, it’s all about the community, whether online or offline. Some people come to our site for the posts, some for the comments. We take a stand and seed a discussion – we try and give people something to think and talk about. We learn from them. There are times when I am going to be on an earnings conference call, or going for an interview, and I’ve sourced questions via twitter or comments on the site. MediaNama is not a blog, it’s a community. The site is just one part of the community.
Q: How, in general, would you rate the quality of Indian blogs? Share your favourite five blogs.
A: I don’t really view blogs as Indian and non-Indian. Quality content is quality content. Each is different, reflecting an opinion and targeting a different audience, if at all. I don’t really have favourites, but some of the blogs I frequent:
… however, most of my blog reading is now via updates from friends on twitter.
Q: What do you find to be the most gratifying aspect of blogging?
A: The comments, the feedback and when someone tells you that what you wrote helped them.
Q: You were the heart and soul of ‘Content Sutra’ and it was never the same after you left. Were there any specific reasons for leaving and starting out on your own as Medianama?
A: ContentSutra was a challenge when I had started out – I had to discover the right content profile, learn how to break stories, learn about the domain and build a community. I learned a lot from Rafat, Staci and the community. We had a very involved community at ContentSutra. Somewhere around the turn of 2007, I began feeling too comfortable, and felt that I wasn’t learning as many new things anymore. So I asked the company to pull me out of my comfort zone – to try and build ContentSutra the way PaidContent.org had been built into a self sustaining business, which was important for it to be taken more seriously. Five months later, I had come to the conclusion that the best way to challenge myself was to build something from scratch. And it has been a challenge – I’ve learned more in the last nine months than I did in the two years before that. It has been a lot more work, and there’s a lot more work to be done.
Q: There are not many players in India covering the Digital/Online media as well as you are doing. Do you see more players coming in? How does one compare the quality of such blogs with other international players?
A: Thanks. It’s about the readers and their expectations. People call you up and tell you they expect more from you, or want more inputs, and that drives you. At this point in time, I don’t see many other players coming in – the Digital segment is fairly small, and the market situation has changed. Some plans that I am aware of, have been put on hold. If you see the top niche blogs from India, they are either being run by specialists (like SpicyIP or all about animation) or journalists with domain expertise. I’m really glad that ContentSutra is up and running again, and Sruthijit is among the best media journalists in the country. I really liked his work at Mint, and he has come into his own, given the kind of freedom that ContentNext gives to its journalists. I do feel we need more quality niche publications like MediaNama, VCCircle and ContentSutra – it helps us improve and grow the market.
Q: How difficult is to manage a large blog covering the latest happenings in the industry single handedly?
A: Well I’m not doing it single handedly – Preethi J joined us a few months ago, and is doing very well. She’s very passionate about our domain, and it shows. While I was covering the industry alone, it was just that I was working on content all the time. But this does involve long working hours, and working all the time. There have been instances where I have had to take time off because of exhaustion, and potential burn-out. I’m able to devote more time to planning out other aspects, and take some time off.
Q: ” For Medianama, it was an explosive large start – the kind I wasn’t expecting ” (as quoted in your blog). What kind of start were you expecting? How did it turn out to be?
A: Well, I was expecting it to be a quiet start – for me to be able to take my time, figure things out and learn new things. I was planning to cover print media, DTH and Radio, and wanted to spend time reading and learning. It just so happened that the first story we did spread like crazy by word of mouth. It attracted a lot of attention because it was a topic that had not been explored before, and still remains among the most important stories that we have done so far. It shed light on the Private Treaties business, and the issues some companies have faced after signing up with them. After that, we just picked up steam. Every month has been bigger than the previous one.
Q: ‘ Medianama is the premier source of information and analysis on the Digital and Media business in India ‘. What are your views about upcoming trends in digital and Media business in India ?
A: Well, the Internet space is going through a period of introspection right now. Monetization is taking precedence over product development and audience gathering and costs are finally being questioned. You must realize that in many cases, Internet companies pay much better than print media, despite being loss making; the costs are now being questioned. We will see a change of guard taking place at the senior and top level in many of Internet companies in India – that process already began in the last fiscal. I sense that brand building activities are increasing online, because based on anecdotal inputs, FMCG advertising is moving online. Online PR and reputation management is going to be seen as a key activity for corporates. Online media has to become more social and more independent – not just a facsimile of print.
I sense that the on-deck space in Mobile VAS space is full with 6-7 players. The direct to consumer space has struggled globally, except where operators have actively encouraged its growth. It’s only a matter of time before operators look to make money from data and play the role of an ISP. Let’s see what happens once the Competition Act gets notified because some VAS companies have told us of cartelization in the Telecom space. I’m looking forward to the Mobile Internet space growing – users evolve with time, like they did in case of regular Internet. I’m very hopeful for the Indian languages space because that is key to the growth of both mobile and Internet
Q: Do you earn revenue through your blog? How does one go about it?
A: So far our primary revenue stream has been research. Classifieds have also earned us some revenue. Advertising hasn’t quite kicked in because we’re still gauging the market. We’re a specialized niche site, which targets investors, entrepreneurs, top and middle management – decision makers who want more from their news and want independent analysis. We target a specific niche – Telecom and Digital Media companies. Unfortunately, the advertising market today appears to be operating at a bulk level and the advertisers, agencies and networks appear to treat niche publications the same way as mass media sites. Ours is not an audience that will fill out a form for lead generation or maybe even click on an ad. For us it isn’t about how many are reading but who is reading and how an association with us impacts brand perception and recall at the time of decision making. It’s about reaching out to that one guy who matters.
Q: Which tools/plugins do you use to efficiently manage your blog? Any widgets or tips you would like to share with our readers.
A: Plugins and widgets are an aside – there must be a reason for them. We use an events plugin to list Industry events for our readers. Others are functional – WP Cache, Newsletter Generator, stats. The one plugin I really like is Intense Debate because it enhances interactivity. However, it hasn’t quite worked out for us as well as I’d hoped, because several of our commenters, who are from the Internet, Mobile and Media industry, prefer to remain anonymous.
Q: What is your advice to someone who wants to start a blog?
A: Whether a personal or a professional blog, be very careful about what you publish. If it’s a business blog – identify your niche and your audience and talk to your readers about what you can do to help make things easier or better for them. Above all, I think it is important to realize that you also have a responsibility to your readers, and stay independent.
Nikhil, Thanks a lot for the Interview! The detail in each and every answer is worth its salt. We are sure our readers would feel the same.
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