2015: One last look

The Insider - - CONTENT -

Did you read your horo­scope to­day? Ap­par­ently 70% of us do on a reg­u­lar ba­sis. Most peo­ple will tell you it’s just for fun, but some­times I think there’s a good mea­sure of hope mixed in.

So how about we have a lit­tle “fun” by tak­ing a peek back at how our hor­ror-scopes for 2015 played out.


When it came to read­ers’ will­ing­ness to pay for news­pa­per and mag­a­zine con­tent in 2015, I ex­pected to see a de­crease in the num­ber of peo­ple spend­ing money on news ac­cess, but I was still sur­prised at how rapid the re­gres­sion ac­tu­ally was.

In 2011, 18% of read­ers in the US said they would be will­ing to spend $10/month for on­line ac­cess to lo­cal news; 23% said they would spend $5/month.

In 2015, only 3% of read­ers were will­ing to spend $10/ month, with only 6% open to pay­ing $5/month!

Mean­while, pay­walls kept go­ing up and down like yo-yos as pub­lish­ers watched rev­enues plateau much ear­lier than they had hoped. Sure,

The New York Times reached 1 mil­lion sub­scribers last year, but it’s hard to cheer too loudly when one com­pares the iconic pa­per to Net­flix’s 69 mil­lion sub­scribers and Spo­tify’s 20 mil­lion. So why are peo­ple will­ing to pay for mu­sic and video con­tent, but not news? Yes, the value propo­si­tions are dif­fer­ent be­tween ephemeral news con­tent ver­sus ever­green mu­sic/video that tends to be con­sumed mul­ti­ple times. And no doubt the abun­dance of free news has some­thing to do with it as well, but it’s more than that.

Re­gard­less of form, the com­mon theme across all three me­dia types is that peo­ple value fric­tion­less dis­cov­ery of con­tent that feeds their pas­sions – two fun­da­men­tal needs not served by pay­wall-pro­tected news­pa­per and mag­a­zine si­los be­cause they don’t give read­ers the con­tent they want in a con­ve­nient way at the right price.


Ac­cord­ing to Edel­man’s Trust Barom­e­ter re­leased in Jan­uary 2015, Google led the pack of search en­gines and be­came the most trusted source of news glob­ally and the world’s largest me­dia owner. Mean­while, trust in tra­di­tional me­dia con­tin­ued to head in the wrong di­rec­tion along with the brand eq­uity pub­lish­ers have been in­vest­ing in for decades.

Fast for­ward nine months to Novem­ber when Parse.ly re­ported that so­cial me­dia drove more traf­fic to dig­i­tal pub­lish­ers than search, while De­fine Me­dia

Group found that although so­cial was grow­ing, search still drove more traf­fic to their clients’ sites which in­clude Time Mag­a­zine and The New York Times.

So the jury is still out on who wins the “the best driver” award. But re­gard­less of whether it’s search or so­cial lead­ing the pack, one thing is for cer­tain – 2015 saw more and more read­ers (par­tic­u­larly mil­len­ni­als) choos­ing to read con­tent cu­rated by those they trust, rather than by tra­di­tional news ed­i­tors. This trend was val­i­dated in the Me­dia In­sight Project: How Mil­len­ni­als Get News which found that younger peo­ple:

Tend not to con­sume news in dis­crete ses­sions or by go­ing di­rectly to news providers

Are drawn into news be­cause peers are rec­om­mend­ing and con­tex­tu­al­iz­ing it for them on so­cial net­works

Get news from Face­book reg­u­larly (88%); more than 50% do so daily

Given these dis­turb­ing trends, one can only won­der if the trust barom­e­ter for so­cial me­dia and search will spike even higher in 2016 at the fur­ther ex­pense of main­stream me­dia.


For cen­turies pub­lish­ers re­fused to play nice with each other, see­ing con­tent syn­di­ca­tion as sin­ful. And when dig­i­tal dis­rup­tion had read­ers re­belling against pay­ing for news, they over­re­acted to Google’s shar­ing of snip­pets of their con­tent that ac­tu­ally drove traf­fic to their web­sites.

In 2015, pub­lish­ers were lit­er­ally flock­ing to give away their con­tent for free, trust­ing the un­trust­wor­thy to com­pen­sate them with ad­ver­tis­ing most users want to block. Just like pub­lish­ers’ pa­rade to pay­walls, The New York

Times’ de­ci­sion to strike a deal with free ag­gre­ga­tors (e.g. Face­book and Ap­ple) had many pub­lish­ers stand­ing in line to jump from the fry­ing pan into the fire.

I once read that Ap­ple News­stand was where apps went to die. Will sleep­ing with these new fren­e­mies help res­ur­rect the ca­dav­ers or will it be the fi­nal nail in their coffins?


The grow­ing epi­demic of ban­ner blind­ness, ad block­ing, fraud and malver­tis­ing is much more than a wakeup call for me­dia ex­ecs. It’s an ur­gent call to ac­tion for pub­lish­ers to im­mu­nize their dig­i­tal prop­er­ties against these dis­eases by serv­ing up con­tent and ad­ver­tis­ing that en­gages read­ers rather than en­rag­ing them.


When I think about proph­e­sies as they re­late to pub­lish­ing, the Chi­nese al­most got it right last year, call­ing 2015 The Year of the Sheep. In re­flect­ing on the pub­lish­ing in­dus­try, it’s too bad it wasn’t called The Year of the Lamb. Maybe things would have worked out a bit dif­fer­ently.

Lambs are highly cu­ri­ous crea­tures and very ac­tive in group play when young. They have also been known to bond closely with peo­ple.

But when lambs grow up and be­come sheep, they ex­hibit fer­vent flock­ing be­hav­ior founded mostly on fear. Band­ing to­gether for pro­tec­tion, these adults be­come highly ag­i­tated when sep­a­rated from the rest of the flock. Fol­low the leader is their modus operandi, even when it’s not in their best in­ter­est.

I won­der some­times if the fu­ture of our in­dus­try would be dif­fer­ent if to­day’s me­dia ex­ec­u­tives were more like the cu­ri­ous lamb, em­brac­ing the

dis­rup­tion sparked by the ad­vance­ments in so­ci­ety and tech­nol­ogy with the free, un­fet­tered, and open-minded spirit of youth.

But when one looks at the “who’s who” of pub­lish­ing, one can’t help but won­der how these vet­er­ans of the print-age could ever envi­sion a fu­ture with youth­ful, in­quis­i­tive eyes, when they seem to view dig­i­tal as more of a curse than an op­por­tu­nity, con­tin­u­ing to blindly fol­low The New York Times’ of the world like sheep.

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