["Every time a newspaper dies, even a bad one, the country moves a little closer to authoritarianism; when a great one goes, like the New York Herald Tribune, history itself is denied a devoted witness." - Richard Kluger ]
The coming year will be one of transition for newspapers. The big question is how many of those papers will be open to the transition, since those who embrace it will undoubtedly fare better than those that do not. Tablets will play a key role in the future distribution of papers, as the next step in mobile delivery, which some papers have already embraced. But the key to monetizing these new delivery methods will be to realize that they are not just extensions of the print product. Digital is a new product unto itself and should be treated as such, with its own layout and design. Beyond that, papers will continue in their attempts to wall off their web sites instead of giving content away for free. And they will continue to battle print circulation and advertising declines even as digital rises, because web advertising still simply does not bring in the same kind of money. Ken Doctor, newspaper analyst and author of “Newsonomics: Twelve Laws That Will Shape the News We Get,”
talks to Media Life about 2012′s most important trends, what media people can expect from the industry, and why digital needs an identity separate from print. What was the defining story in newspapers during 2011? Newspapers found the building blocks of a new business model. Two factors came together: charging for digital access, with The New York Times leading the way and at least 125 other dailies joining it; and the emergence of the tablet as a replacement device for good old print.
While print advertising continues to turn down and digital advertising is a tough slog, digital circulation and “all-access” reading offer new promise.
What will be the three things to keep an eye on in newspapers in 2012?
Let’s watch three numbers: How much more cutting of newsroom staff and of print pages do newspapers do? With advertising to be down again in single digits year-over-year, the only way to stay profitable is to cut.
How much new circulation revenue do newspapers actually take in as they charge for all-access, giving readers print, online, smartphone and tablet for a single price. It’s well and good to establish digital reading value, but new significant money better show up in the circulation category.
How many more dailies become less than daily? More than a dozen dailies have dropped a day of print publication a week, pushing advertisers into fewer days and breaking the print reader habit. More will join the movement, but how many, how quickly? What do media buyers and planners need to know about newspapers in 2012? Newspapers are often their own worst enemy at telling their own stories. These are brands that still have much share of mind among readers, and the branded context they supply is a good home for relevant advertising. Newspapers are making a faster transition to digital, strongly through the tablet, so think news, not newspapers.
What developments will you personally be most interested to see with regard to newspapers this year?
We’ve seen a spate of newspaper sales, largely to billionaires, in the last half of 2011. With newspaper prices at rock bottom – roughly a tenth of what they were a decade ago – who will own the presses that still inform much of the country? Further, I’m watching how quickly newspapers adopt real apps and HTML5 products that make full use of the gift they’ve been given: the print-like (in some ways) tablet. I’m concerned too many of them will stick with inferior PDF-like tablet products.
Do you think newspapers are putting enough emphasis on digital? Why or why not? We hear the digital first mantra, and in truth, the transition – forced by the death spiral of print – is now moving faster. The emphasis is increasingly there, but we’re not seeing sufficient innovation or talent brought to the task. How can newspapers best monetize digital media such as tablets and smartphones? Has anyone figured it out yet?
Yes, though we’re just at the beginning. Most simply, the tablet represents a print-like environment in some respects – plus incredible interactivity and immersiveness. Given its print-like characteristics – more stories read, longer session times, more time spent with single brands – both digital circulation and digital advertising are new foundations.
Tablet ad rates are running five to 10 times online rates, though that will moderate. In the next phase, probably 2013 on, we’ll see content producers offering dozens of new niche tablet reading and information products, some reader paid, some ad paid, some both.
What do you think are the long-term prospects for paywalls? How are papers learning from The New York Times’ example?
Properly applied they make sense and follow a larger media model adopted by everyone from HBO and Comcast to Netflix and The New York Times.
We see emerging formulae of pricing, presentation and product; you’ve got to get all three right to make significant new revenue. The Times has been smartest about the three, along with The Wall Street Journal, but regional dailies have struggled to make that trifecta work in 2011. Some more will in 2012.
Do you believe the recent prediction that most newspapers will cease to exist in print form within the next five years? Why or why not? Most people make the mistake of thinking of newspapers as an on/off switch. That’s not the future.
Print – on the basis of cheaper digital production cost and environmental sensitivities – will continue to be priced higher and higher, pushing readers to digital. Newspapers won’t go out of business. In five years, many will be Sunday plus a couple of other days of the week, depending on advertising mid-week print interest, and otherwise digital on devices like the iPad 15.