Don’t stop the presses just yet
Brendan Seery is the editor of
Media and Marketing, Independent Newspapers FTER a week in Amsterdam at the WAN-IFRA conference with colleagues from Independent Newspapers, and with heads full of the possibilities of a digital future, there was a reality check at the departure gate at Schiphol airport.
My boarding pass was an electronic type – sent to my phone – and scanned in as I went through security to board the plane. It worked… there. But it didn’t work in KLM’s main booking system. I was called back to the desk where the system couldn’t recognise that I had already gone through security.
It was a reminder to me that, in all the euphoria about the way forward being digital, we need to retain a measure of not only realism but also scepticism.
That for me was the issue at the WANIFRA conference, which is held regularly to discuss the newest developments in publishing: Most of the focus was on digital.
It was positive in many ways because it woke me up to the fact that we cannot avoid a digital future… but it also reminded me that we cannot turn our backs on print, because print is what sustains our business.
In the past 10 years, the news has not been good for the news business on a global scale: Advertising sales are down 55 percent. At the same time, the share of digital ad revenue by newspapers has gone down 52 percent.
Weekly print circulation has declined by 47 percent.
Aggregate revenue has gone down 35 percent.
Pre-tax 37 percent.
Newsroom staffing has contracted by 31 percent.
But should we all run screaming in fear or jump off the building? I don’t think so. Consider this: Two and a half billion people read a daily newspaper – and more than 800 million in digital form.
The newspaper industry generates more than $160 billion (R1.8 trillion) of revenue globally from content sales, advertising revenue and increasingly other forms of diversified revenue streams.
Despite the diversification into digital, we in the newspaper industry get, on average, 93 percent of our revenue from print.
And the reality is that, even if we increase our presence in the digital sphere, we are going to have to fight for our lunch, because the giants Google and Facebook
declined by are vacuuming up more and more digital revenue.
However, we cannot afford not to get on the internet bandwagon – and do it properly.
Newspaper audiences are getting older and the move to other platforms (like tablets, which have had a slower than expected uptake, we heard) and cellphones (which are booming, and across a broad age range) means we have to have a presence in the new media and attract younger audiences to all our platforms (and back to newspapers, because they are doing successfully in a pilot project in Belgium, for example).
The conference underlined Independent’s commitment to “Digital First, Print Best” – summed up as the two different forms of news (and how we should deliver it): the digital, which is instant and “uncooked” and the print, which is “curated”, thought over, detailed and “cooked”.
After attending the World Print Forum and seeing the new digital printing technology – and the ability it gives print to do amazing things; and hearing from Barry Lynch (Independent production director in KwaZulu-Natal) that the company is committed to print, I came away with a sense of optimism.
However, we need to realise that print won’t simply take care of itself. We must: Market it as a news and advertising medium (it is still better than digital as an advertising platform in many respects, but particularly when it comes to response) – and we must tell the world how sexy and convenient it is.
Look at new ways of distributing our print product.
Change our newsrooms to focus on channelling breaking news to the web (website or apps) but at the same time don’t throw away our own exclusives by posting them on the Net too early so competitors can cut and paste them on to their sites (generating hits and comments off our hard work).
Make our newspapers “video enabled” through pushing augmented reality apps. We can use these to not only enhance the reader’s news experience, but can also use them as valuable revenue streams for videoenabled ads.
Start locking in our readers and advertisers through offering them something back, as rewards for their loyalty. They must come to regard us as a place they will get news, experiences, offers and deals they can’t get elsewhere.
I have the sense that no newspaper company worldwide has yet come up with a model that will reverse what some see as a steady road to extinction.
We in South Africa have, so far, not made the big mistakes that some overseas newspaper groups have, and we have an opportunity to show them how it should be done.
WAY FORWARD: The new combined digital and print newsroom of La Stampa in Italy.