Written by Scott Loring and Andrew Davis
The newspaper industry is struggling to survive. The staggering loss of revenue has signaled that the time is coming for massive changes.
Media columnist Michael Wolff recently stated that “about 18 months from now, 80 percent of newspapers will be gone.” This tells us that the turning point for the newspaper industry is not only coming, it is already knocking at the door. The pile-on continues, with Ken Doctor discussing Google’s next step as a ‘digital paperboy,’ serving up relevant, timely digital content to the masses.
So, what is the story behind the story?
The Disruption of Modernization
There is something enjoyable about the tactile, time-slowing experience of opening a physical newspaper – be it on a plane, train, or a Sunday morning. But let’s just admit it – akin to talk radio in the car, newspapers will be forced to rely heavily on increasingly sparse captive settings for physical consumption. Not a bad thing, just a reality of the increasing speed of life. This lifespeed acceleration alone would be enough to kill the physical daily paper – nevermind the impending impact of the Kindle and other mobile consumption options.
A provocative presentation on TED by Jacek Utko suggests that improvements in newspaper design could buy some time, but this does not address the core issues at play.
This winter’s Nieman Reports outlined how the next generation of news consumers place high value on trusted news sources, talented journalists, and editorial direction. But as Mark Davis of the San Diego Union-Tribune mentions in a recent post, there are clearly navigational issues in today’s online news sites that continue to hinder young adult adoption.
On the monetization side, there is a growing consensus supporting a hybrid pricing model, where there is some ad-supported (free) content, some micropayment per article, and ultimately some subscriptions for full access (recently echoed by Eric Schmidt). This is an entirely reasonable approach, if for no other reason than to ensure that the newspapers are extracting the maximum amount of consumer surplus at every turn. But the path that takes a newspaper from their current predicament to this economic hybrid nirvana is unclear.
Why? Because we’re still dancing around the big elephant in the room.
You can design the hell out of your website, and deliver the slickest UI possible, but if the underlying content is poor, you will fail. You can also build a paywall around your content, but if the content is still poor, you will fail.
Here is some GOOD NEWS: 99% of the free content that newspapers are posting online today is priced properly: $0. It is not timely, it is not kicking off a conversation, it is not easily sharable, it is too unfocused, and it is almost entirely text-based. As a result, it simply does not deliver an engaging online experience – and therefore is not able to be monetized beyond poor CPM ad dollars.
As Jim VandeHei, executive editor of Politico, stated back in 2007 regarding the importance of the news organization brand vs. the journalists, “Reporters here will transcend the organization.” Branded journalists who deliver high-quality content and build direct relationships with their online readers deliver huge long-term value for the publication, the journalist, and ultimately for the online readers.
Time to Reinvent the News
A new medium requires new thinking and an appetite for experimentation. Case in point: some of the first failures in TV broadcast content were born from misguided attempts to film live theatrical plays for television consumption. Cramming old content into new mediums doesn’t work. The new online medium demands new content to fit the new context. The user experience can be so much more, and users are demanding more. To survive, newspapers must deliver more. The efficient market is YELLING this message to them … the newspaper industry may want to turn up their hearing aids.
This is the first entry in a four-part series that address the rebirth of the newspaper industry. The second entry will focus on what newspapers are doing right and why hyper-local will be a lifeline for some, and ultimately highlight some success stories in elevating online content rather than simply shoveling offline content online. Highlights next week will include the NYTimes’ Article Skimmer prototype, the WSJ editorial page, the Domus Breaking News Project, and ExecTweets.
My Question to You (and a Poll Question)
Who do you think is evolving fast enough to weather the rebirth of the US newspaper industry?
We also believe that newspapers, especially local papers, need to rethink the kind of content they create and disseminate. Here’s our first poll question…
&amp;lt;br /&amp;gt; &amp;lt;a href=”http://answers.polldaddy.com/poll/1593540/” mce_href=”http://answers.polldaddy.com/poll/1593540/”&amp;gt;What content in your LOCAL paper is most valuable to you?&amp;lt;/a&amp;gt;&amp;lt;span style=”font-size:9px;” mce_style=”font-size:9px;”&amp;gt;(&amp;lt;a href=”http://www.polldaddy.com” mce_href=”http://www.polldaddy.com”&amp;gt;online surveys&amp;lt;/a&amp;gt;)&amp;lt;/span&amp;gt;&amp;lt;br /&amp;gt;