We love newspapers - and the romantic in us wants to believe newspaper decline will plateau. Unfortunately, there is no evidence of this.
Newspaper circulation globally, aside from China and India, continues to nose-dive.
Australia and Oceania (including New Zealand) has experienced among the steepest declines, a loss of towards 25 per cent over five years, according to the last WAN-IFRA World Press Trends survey.
In consulting to publishers in Australia and New Zealand, and from our observations from study trips and research across the globe, we find media owners and managers face three main challenges:
They are overwhelmed by the general media landscape and what the future will bring;
They are under enormous pressure because of declining revenue, fixed costs and unsympathetic market forces;
They are stuck in the headlights. They do not know what to do next.
They might not be able to control market and social forces, but they can take measures to make print stronger for longer. And, situationally, newspapers can still be a profitable concern, especially for companies that can contain costs and provide a great user experience in smaller markets.
However, we see even the most experienced media bosses continue to make seven classic mistakes, which combined can kill the opportunity to respawn:
Not niching: Newspapers can blame the internet and social media for all manner of things, but nothing will hurt them more than forgetting their central mission - to serve an audience. Long gone are the days that newspapers could be all things to all people. Today, they must define their patch and cover it better than anyone.
Protecting print to a fault: This argument still gets an airing - “if we do online and social we will cannibalise print”. For most companies, print can have a comfortable place in the product eco-system alongside a subscriber or member website, email newsletter, social media and other channels. Even in markets where print has primacy, digital media can be used in a smart way to extend reach.
Lacking strategy: Not having a plan is worse than having a bad one. Without a business strategy, staff have no compass. Around content, be clear about the target audience and how various channels and media will be used to craft superb storytelling.
Talking print down: It is no wonder that many in the community believe print does not have a future when the industry’s communications have for the most part been a real downer. Situationally, print still makes an impact - and for some companies more than 80 per cent of their revenue. I devour local and trade publications and regularly come across ones that are stacked with ads and first-class content. When I see these titles, I feel like storming down to their offices and demanding to see the editor: “Didn’t you get the email? Print is dead!” Digital gets our attention, but print equals trust, authority and understanding - and is more powerful in converting a feeling to a sale.
Being production heavy: Despite new technology, some newsrooms work the same way they did generations ago, with a factory line setup that pumps out content at the end. Successful modern newsrooms are flexible and journalists are empowered to self-publish. To focus on content, newsrooms need to eliminate, transfer or automate as much production as possible.
Going lone ranger: Making change in any business is hard. Making it in a newsroom, where there are extraordinary pressures, is almost impossible as part of the day-to-day. Treat change like a project with dedicated resource and planning - otherwise it will simply not happen.
Taking too long: The pace of change will quicken - so if things are trending south around revenue and circulation then every month that floats past without a commensurate response will be costly. We have seen publishers only take action, despite thinking about it for a long time, after trading falls off the proverbial cliff.