Don’t stop the presses just yet

The Star Early Edition - - OPINION & ANALYSIS - BREN­DAN SEERY

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.

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