Having worked in the newspaper industry for 16 years and in digital for 22 years I’ve seen the conflict between paper and digital from pretty much day one.
I’ve dealt daily with reputable journalists treating the internet like witchcraft and techies saying that print is dead! Frequently stuck in the middle of arguments about “We’re saving this for print!” or “This is an online only story!”. It’s been my job to support both teams and also my job to find solutions that appease both camps whilst each blames the other for the decline in paper sales.
For several years now we have seen editorial offices stripped of staff whilst businesses move their offerings to digital because, as our superiors tell us, “That is where the money and the people are going!”.
But is that really the case?
Newspaper publishers have experimented with “Digital First” and “Online Only” for some time and to an extent in some circumstances there’s been a level of success but will it sustain news production moving forward? It’s hard to tell, but what we can’t afford to happen is see smaller, independent publishers be forced out of business and all our digested news come from mainstream conglomerates, who may or may not have an agenda of their own!
Since the early 1980’s, long before the internet could be blamed as a “newspaper killer”, researcher Dr Andreas Vogel collected data that showed a downward trend in the number of readers.
We can therefore argue that internet and digital have not taken away from publishers but have helped plug a hole that was already well established but hidden away as there was nothing to blame the decline on!
So if technology is not to blame for the decline in print what is?
Well it would appear to be a simple change in society and peoples behaviour, we no longer believe everything that is thrown at us from the media but also people “penny pinch” a lot more these days.
When sorting your household budget, the local newspaper doesn’t come top of priorities especially when the cost of the paper has gone up 4 times in the past 2 years!
Punishing your existing subscribers by raising prices will NEVER be the solution to cost optimising.
It’s not just cover price that punishes readers. Cutting corners by lowering the number of pages, decreasing content and printing less features all have a detrimental effect on readership.
The reading experience needs to be enriched if anything which is why investment in news teams and journalists is as important as ever.
Equally as important, you can’t punish your advertisers. Throwing add-on after add-on into existing advertisers packages just moves money from one pot to another, those are the advertisers you need to protect. Confusing them with extras just unsettles them, find simple, effectively named packages that tick advertisers boxes. Streamlining products and making packages simple for sales teams to understand, sell and book is crucial. If they don’t understand them fully how can you expect the advertiser to know what they are getting.
The decline in hard copy newspaper sales has been evident for many years now. The answer is not to abandon journalism and effective sales teams, the answer is not to increase cover price and cut pages. The answer is simply to scale and remodel. Scale does not mean cutting left, right and centre, it may well mean that we have to accept a lower profit margin. The PLC days of the top brass smoking cigars, sipping whisky and earning stupendous amounts of money have gone but the days of being a good journalist, excelling at your sales role and contributing to a quality newspaper are still very much at the forefront of newspaper production, and competition for those proven people is going to grow as more people leave the industry.
A good platform in print and digital is key to long term survival. The saying “Less chiefs and more Indians” has never been more apt than now in the industry, an industry with a long history but more importantly an industry with a future . . . . if managed effectively.