I would love to get involved in the newspaper business right now. I realize that may sound crazy given the doom and gloom that is hovering over the entire industry like a black cloud. However, I see the current state of the newspaper business as a tremendous opportunity. Through my work in print for clients big and small and thus exposure to the industry, my mind is full of ideas and concepts on how the newspaper can evolve / change both from presentation and design, to new methods of creating additional revenue. It has become a closet fascination for me. Perhaps the biggest stumbling block in the newsprint business is a corporate culture that is not currently embracing innovation fast enough.
Meanwhile, the default attitude of newspaper management is still caution and probity. And if you point a gun to the head of caution and probity and say “innovate or die,” don’t expect wonderful things to happen. Instead, expect buzzwords. In short: we need more paint thrown at more walls. But there aren’t many true innovators out there yet in positions of authority, and those who are are struggling against an archaic institutional architecture that remains despite all the layoffs: everything from the strictures of AP style to the cluelessness of corporate overlords.
I don’t particularly like the use of the term ‘corporate overlords’ as it does not accurately convey the real challenges that every newspaper executive currently faces on a daily basis. From managing shareholder expectations to restructuring debts and corporate structure, using a term like ‘corporate overlord’ seems like a cop-out. Nonetheless the overall motif of that quote rings true. There is an inherent slow pace of evolution and change in the newspaper industry and that in and of itself may be cannibalizing its future more than anything else. This culture of ‘slow’ needs to change. The corporate newspaper culture needs an injection of fresh thinking, new ideas and this overall fear of experimentation must be cast aside before this perfect media storm quashes the relevance of the medium for good. What is this perfect media storm that is threatening newspapers?
Let’s take a look at some of the key factors that are eating away at the newspaper’s future.
a) Consumer attention crisis – Pre-internet newspaper readers may have spent 2 hours reading their daily paper, now that number is probably under 30 minutes. Consumers are pre-conditioned to want everything ‘now’. Combine shorter attention spans with a myriad of other options to consume media, and it’s no wonder newspapers are facing an attention crisis.
b) Advertisers are taking money off the newspaper table – And they’re spreading it out across more mediums and utilizing different marketing strategies. Not only are people spending less time reading newspapers, which has trimmed the value of newsprint ads, but advertisers also have so many other places to put their money these days. Yes, lots of print ad money is migrating to the web, but advertisers are also experimenting more, using strategies like direct-to-consumer and word of mouth marketing campaign
c) Consumers are producers – We’re moving from a few-to-many media spectrum to a many-to-many spectrum where anyone can grab a signal and be heard. Blogs and any form of user-generated content for that matter are fragmenting the media market. You don’t need to be a newspaper columnist to have influence and / or a large audienc
d) Investor fragmentation – The same way that consumers have so much more choice when consuming media, investors too have many more places to invest their money. Money also moves so much quicker today which only compounds and expedites the exodus of investment out of your company / industry if you can’t project a solid vision for the futur
e) Technology game – Media consumption has become very technology driven. How media is both created and transmitted has changed forever and technology is now driving this bus. Newsprint has not evolved, and many newspapers have been incredibly slow to embrace new technology as a whole. In some ways it starts from the inside-out. A change in DNA has to happen for newspapers. I’m not suggesting newspapers need to stock themselves full of technology geeks, but to some degree an internal shift has to happen. If you want to capture the attention of a younger, tech-savvy demographic, you are going to have to start looking and thinking like they do.
f) Market communism, the wall has come down for good – Pre-internet, newspapers had a protected market. Today, there is no such thing as a protected market. It’s now a fluid marketplace with no borders and barriers. You’re audience may be here today, and gone tomorrow. That’s realit
Those are the challenges facing the newspaper business today. Will the newspaper survive this new world of hyper-connectedness and hyper-short attention spans? I think they will, but the sooner newspapers start throwing paint at their walls, the better.