Former Naspers CEO Koos Bekker predicts that print media will be extinct within the next 20 years. Speaking in a video interview at the Future of Media conference, Bekker prefaced this prediction by pointing out that prediction is a fool’s game.
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“My recent predictions of the future were all wrong. Don’t try and predict the future but try to adapt to it,” Bekker said in his first interview since stepping down as CEO of the company earlier this year.
Bekker, who took Naspers from a predominantly print-based media company, to a global ecommerce and social media superpower with a market cap of over R554-billion, reckons that we’re already starting to see wholesale changes in the way media is consumed and produced.
According to the former Naspers CEO, we’re seeing control of content moving away from dedicated providers and towards brands. The “intrusion of commercial messaging into content is inevitable,” Bekker says.
The thinking behind his prediction around the decline of print media, it seems, comes largely down to the fact that most media houses simply haven’t been able to adapt to the changing climate. It’s worth bearing in mind however that Bekker’s Naspers hasn’t exactly been averse to shutting down print titles it deems to be unsuccessful.
There are others who would argue that there is still a future for print and, indeed, that print can actually trump digital when it comes to the attention economy, particularly if it plays to its strengths rather than trying to emulate what has made digital successful.
Bekker did however point out that a large part of the reason print titles have fared so badly in recent years is down to the fact that they have been unable to reduce fixed costs. That has certainly been a large factor in the woes faced by the industry as a whole. The fact that big publications such as Newsweek have gone back to having print editions, and that a massive internet player like Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos was prepared to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on the Washington Post suggests that print’s future might not be quite so clear cut.
Pay-TV and ecommerce
Given that Pay-TV, through its DStv offering, and ecommerce make up the bulk of Naspers’ revenues, it’s not all that surprising that Bekker is still bullish about both and even sees points of convergence between the two.
“Pay TV is already a form of ecommerce,” he said during the interview. You can see his point too. Although DStv may have benefited unduly from the fact that poor internet speeds have stopped internet-based video-on-demand providers like Netflix and Hulu (arguably more true ecommerce players) from entering the country, it has taken steps to make sure they don’t beat it to the punch.
Its Box Office service for instance allows people to stream and download movies fresh off the theatrical circuit to their decoders. It’s a pretty practical solution for a country still hindered by slow internet speeds but it’s unclear whether it’s enough or just enough for now.
The fact that Naspers hired Bob van Dijk, the former head of eBay Germany, as Bekker’s replacement suggests that the relationship between these two dominant pillars of Naspers’ business could grow even closer.
His pointing out that 11 to 12% of UK retail sales now occur through ecommerce does suggest that Naspers is not about to let its more traditional ecommerce outlets flounder, especially when Bekker returns as chairman after a year of retirement.
In South Africa, much of the focus will be on the Kalahari.com property, after a number of Naspers’ other ecommerce properties were shuttered in February.
The shutting down of those sites was a gamble, and one that was far from universally popular. As Bekker pointed out in a 2011 interview with Memeburn however, you have to be able to make difficult decisions and you have to be able to live with them, even if they turn out to be wrong.
“If you succeed you only ever learn how clever you are,” he said in Future of Media interview adding that failure can often be more valuable, and provide more lessons than only moderate success.
Bekker has effectively been with Naspers since 1985, when he helped launch MNet — South Africa’s first pay TV channel. He took over from Vosloo as CEO of the company in 1997. In the 2000s he lead two of the company’s most successful investments into Chinese internet giant Tencent and Russia’s Mail.ru.