Right now, digital in India is that girl in college who nobody knows but everyone wants to kiss.
But sooner or later, people may want to do more than just kiss the girl…there are three more bases to reach, as all of us men were taught.
What will decide if she still remains that girl is whether she will let you do more than just kiss her.
That, to me, is the big question-mark looming over digital in India.
While clients in India are slowly warming up to digital, they’re also approaching it with a wary eye. They want to know beforehand how many people is it going to reach, how effective it will be, what the cost-per-exposure will be, and so on.
So we roll out our little bag of magic numbers, juggle them around, and put them up in front of the client. Telling them that there are about 7 million broadband connections in India today, according to CII and IMRB. This number is expected to rise to 214 million in 2014, with about 700 million users. That most Indian Internet users can be caught on Google, Yahoo, Facebook and Orkut (and all the other top sites Alexa throws up every day). We put in this little table that shows off what people are using the net for. Where they browse the net. For how long each day. And so on.
At a glance, the picture seems rosy. As Internet penetration increases in India, the medium becomes more and more attractive.
But here (finally) is my question.
Who is the Internet reaching?
Everyone, would be the usual answer. It’s reaching folks in metros and mini-metros. It’s reaching small-town folk in offices and cybercafes. It’s growing fast in rural India.
The thing is, it’s only reaching upmarket folks in all these places. People who can afford a PC and a net connection. Or those who are educated enough to work desk jobs. Small-business secretaries who check their mail while checking their boss’. Government clerks whiling away the boring hours on GTalk.
The Internet is definitely not reaching my maid and her family, my watchman, my liftman, my car cleaner, my peon, my cook and the waiter who serves my drinks at the Club. And it’s definitely not reaching tribes living in the jungles of Orissa or Bihar. Most of these folk still get their persuasion through TV, radio, POS and one-on-one communication. So, Ghadi detergent would be better served by TV and radio than digital.
And the difference between those reached and those not reached by the Internet is the glass ceiling for digital in India.
If you can’t read or write, you probably cannot afford a PC. Even if you stole one, you’d be lost. Because the Internet – all said and done – is primarily a reading-driven medium.
Apart from aiding computer literacy directly, education will open up opportunity. Opportunity will increase PC exposure, and voila! More people to sell stuff to through the Internet.
Instead of giving away laptops to villages, maybe our government needs to spend more on increasing the quality of education in villages.
There is a bright side, though. One digital medium that can bypass the need for education, apart from needing to know basic numbers. The mobile phone has the potential to boost digital in India, if only we could figure out what to do with it.
But more on that in a post yet to come.