The death of newspapers?

Their death has been predicted endlessly, yet still newspapers survive and in rare cases flourish.   How and why?There are numerous fascinating news publishing models:

  • News International’s paywalls for access to the Times stable.   A brave experiment, it hasn’t flown with real consumers despite the promise of laser targeting to advertisers, though it has retained existing subscribers at the cost of providing ‘free’ extras, costs which look like they could destabilise the outfit (witness the folding of The Daily) if not reined in;
  • Pearson’s The Financial Times also has a paywall, but as it offers unique content and analysis unavailable elsewhere, it works, and it will continue to work;
  • The Guardian and The Telegraph are at loggerheads with each other.   Both remain free, both are showing signs of stasis.   Though stability isn’t all that exciting for advertisers, it does deliver solid revenues for the media owner and stable audiences for advertisers, though in The Guardian’s case revenues have been all but swallowed up by an increasing mountain of debt incurred by the shift to ‘digital first’ (from which the quickest way to recover might be to abandon print?);
  • The Daily Mail is the unlikely star of the digital news publishing world with its focus on tits ‘n bums and a ‘Tits ‘n Bums? How Shocking!’ editorial stance, at once moralising but also enabling and combined with some killer SEO to deliver a huge international audience.   International audiences however do not for ease of ad targeting make.   But perhaps the model the Mail are following isn’t a British one at all, but rather that established by Huffington Post . . . a federated ‘Daily Mail’ with a regional focus popping up in New York, Bombay, even Beijing and a social media presence to match . . . one to watch.

Of course there are other ways to get your news, The BBC, Reuters/PA aside, which those of us who mine digital media and use social media have been doing for years.   Twitter offers a useful international corrective to the myopia of much of our (UK) news output, I follow CIO Africa for example and Shashi Tharoor, getting news from Africa and India into the bargain which frequently challenges the long-held views of those regions in our media.

What future for newspapers?  

  • Display ad revenues are not what they had once been;
  • Print costs are rising;
  • Subscription models only work in a context where content is unique, as the Times is finding out and as FT always knew;
  • Social media and greater independence on the part of consumers is eroding traditional brand loyalties, something The Guardian and Telegraph have tried to address with their social experiments, and not always with success, yet;
  • The ‘free’ model is a challenge, witness London’s Evening Standard and Time Out, both free and both covering news and issues one might have to pay for from other new providers, in both cases, scale delivers the revenue win in a print format . . . that and a commitment to quality content, for now.

The lesson seems to be, be unique and offer consumers something challenging and interesting; charge for it if you can, and offer advertisers and stakeholders better targeting; if you can’t do the latter then widen your scope by going free and attaining mass circulation to attract advertising £s . . . but ultimately, be aware that the glory days of endless £millions are over too.   Be real, face facts, adapt.   If proof were needed of that dictum, look at Google buying Wildfire to prop up its ad revenues . . . it isn’t about newspapers any more (Wildfire, a social advertising service).

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