By Alex Micu
A recent Guardian article by Roy Greenslade, citing a study by Professor Neil Thurman from the University of London, found that newspapers are read for an average of 40 minutes per day compared to an online visitor’s 30 second skim. Well, no surprise there. If there is one ailment that the current generation suffers from that is certainly ‘short attention span-itits’.
The new age of headline readers is doing journalism no favours as they are very unlikely to pay for getting past a paywall or for longer form premium pieces. They are also notoriously fed up with online ads with global ad blocking growing by 30% in 2016 mainly due to the poor quality of advertising in the space. But this is for another time.
Add the above to the fact that currently 88% of a newspaper’s revenue comes from print revenue and only 12% comes from digital and you have a really good picture of how important print is for a news outlet and why it is here to stay, right? WRONG. Newspapers are closing their print editions left and right, profits are declining, advertising spend has fallen every year since 2008 and everyone is scratching their heads about how to correct this trajectory.
So, the main dilemma is this: How to replace the lost sales and ad spend in print with digital revenue?
Digital ad spend is definitely on the up, without a doubt but it’s nowhere near enough to cover the massive expenses the publishing empires have plus all the sales they are losing for their print edition and marketers turning away from print advertising.
What we need is something like an Uber, but for newspaper revenue. Unfortunately, no one has come up with that. Yet. I have always thought that the entity/person to bring innovation to this space will be the new Elon Musk.
The beacon of hope for newspapers everywhere is the New York Times 2016 success story and how they managed to add 276,000 digital-only subscriptions in the final months of the year riding the Trump backlash.
Could the answer be found in the new movements social platforms like Facebook and Snapchat are developing? Facebook recently announced that they will be favouring longer videos in users’ newsfeeds starting this year while at the same time integrating mid-roll adverts and splitting the revenue with publishers. While this might take a while to get into motion, it does open up some prospects in regards to monetising content that the audience expects to receive for free.
And let’s not forget about the paywall, a rather recent gimmick that was received with rapturous applause at its inception and which is now losing support across the board, from The Sun to The Telegraph, with both outlets now paywall-free.
What we have so far in terms of revenue solutions is:
Digital (on an upwards trends): Subscriptions, online ads, native advertising, donations, social networking platforms, paywalls
Print (on a downwards trends): newspaper sales and traditional advertising
How can publications balance these two in such a way that it makes a positive impact on their business? Or is there another way?
In an era where brands become publishers and publishers become brands the status quo is waiting to be challenged.
Buzzfeed, for example, has started making money by realising it can actually sell physical products. And it’s working: they have sold $25,000 worth of their ‘Failing Pile of Garbage’ t-shirts while also shifting more than 100,000 copies of their Tasty cookbook. Could The Guardian start selling slogan t-shirts or The Sun launching a coffee book table of Page 3 girls?
I must confess that the answer eludes me for now and if I were in the shoes of a publishing decision maker what I would do is keep my options open without obsessing on any of the above.
Digital will continue to grow and print will continue to shrink but I find it hard to believe that having a newspaper digital subscription will become the norm just as having one for Netflix or Spotify has. What I do know though is that a total shift of paradigm is needed and the solutions might not turn out to be hiding in the usual places but rather at other touch points where consumers spend money. Like Uber.
Alex Micu is a Digital Account Director at The Communication Store and a partner in Two Fingers Brewing, a social enterprise giving all profits to Prostate Cancer UK. You can follow him @.
Image courtesy of flickr user Elvert Barnes