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March 19 2012

12:00

News-to-go is here to stay

For anyone who can remember being floored by the mid-1980s Chrysler sedan that warned “your door is ajar” in delightful monotone, it’s still kind of thrilling that Cadillacs come with wifi these days. But for a growing number of Americans, it’s hard to imagine going anywhere without an iPhone in one pocket and an iPad within arm’s reach.

Here it is, as if there was any doubt: The age of mobile.

One in four American adults now has a smartphone, and one in five owns a tablet. And 27 percent of Americans are getting news on mobile devices — increasingly across different platforms. That’s according to the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, and its annual report on the State of the News Media in 2012, released today.

One takeaway from Pew’s January 2012 survey of more than 3,000 adults is that our increasingly mobile reality brings new opportunities and, yes, more uncertainty for journalism.

Pew finds mobile devices are driving up news consumption, immersing audiences in content and strengthening traditional long-form journalism. But the industry is still following the lead of tech giants when it comes to the ways in which news is becoming more pervasive, which begs arguably the biggest of the big questions that Pew’s buffet of data raises: Who stands to benefit economically from the mobile shift?

“If they want to be everything, news is part of that, and people are spending more time with news.”

“When you look at the revenue side, we see even more that the tech companies are strengthening their hold on the revenue side, on who’s gaining the profits from this era of news,” the project’s deputy director, Amy S. Mitchell, told me. “While there may be some positive side in terms of what consumers are doing, the big technology companies are taking an even bigger piece of the revenue pie.”

Illustrating that point: Last year, five technology giants — not including Apple and Amazon — generated 68 percent of all digital ad revenue. By 2015, Facebook is expected to account for one of every five digital display ads sold. In contrast, print ad revenues were down $2.1 billion, or 9.2 percent, last year. Losses in print outweighed $207 million in online advertising gains by a ratio of 10 to 1.

This dynamic gave Pew researchers an idea that has been floated before: Could a tech giant like Google or Facebook swoop in and “save” a household-name newspaper by buying it? Mitchell says there are signs that “speak to the possibility of that happening,” namely the idea that technology leaders might identify news production as a path to omnipresence in consumers’ lives. But why would a profitable company want to acquire an operation — even one with a legacy brand — that’s in the red?

“The technology giants — the big technology companies — have all taken steps in the last year to kind of be an ‘everything,’” Mitchell says. “To not just be the king of search but to also have social networking, to have a video component, to also have your email as well as your social networking, as well as your news feed. While news may not be the revenue generator that these companies are looking to own, it is a part of how people are spending their day. If they want to be everything, news is part of that, and people are spending more time with news.”

Some of the other interesting tidbits in the report:

• Some rural Native American and Alaska Native populations are adapting straight from print to mobile, skipping right over desktops and laptops. It’s a pattern similar to what’s happening in parts of the developing world.

• Some 133 million Americans — 54 percent of the online U.S. population — are active on Facebook, and they’re spending about seven hours per month on the site. That’s 14 times as long as the average person spent on the most popular news sites. Just nine percent of adults in the United State say they regularly follow Facebook or Twitter links to news stories — despite the social media efforts of news organizations.

• Social media platforms “grew substantially” in 2011, but people are still more likely to use search engines or go directly to a news site than follow links from social media.

• Consumers perceive Twitter as having more news that’s harder to find elsewhere than Facebook. But most of those surveyed say they believe the news they get on Facebook and Twitter is news that they would have seen elsewhere without those sites.

• Print newspapers “stood out for their continued decline, which nearly matched the previous year’s 5 percent drop.” The latest Pew numbers show that total newspaper revenue — that means subscription as well as ad revenue — has dropped 43 percent since 2000. Over the last five years, an average of 15 newspapers (about 1 percent of the industry) has disappeared each year.

• As many as 100 newspapers are expected to put up paywalls (in some form) in the coming months. They would join the roughly 150 dailies that have already shifted to “some kind of digital subscription model,” which means slightly more than one-tenth of surviving U.S. dailies have a paywall or subscription service of some kind.

• More consumers are worried about their online privacy, which creates “conflicting pressure” for news organizations that need revenue to survive while also maintaining their audience’s trust. A separate Pew study found two-thirds of Internet users were uneasy with search engines tracking their activity, but they’re also relying more heavily on the services that such companies provide.

May 05 2011

14:30

The newsonomics of the new ABCs of journalism

Editor’s Note: Each week, Ken Doctor — author of Newsonomics and longtime watcher of the business side of digital news — writes about the economics of news for the Lab.

This week brought us the long-worked-on new counting metrics for American daily newspaper journalism.

ABC, the Audit Bureau of Circulations, has long provided The Number.

The Number — really The Numbers, a daily number and a Sunday number — have been the reader numbers dailies measured themselves by, twice a year, spring and fall. Who’s up, who’s down, who’s number one — it’s really a horse-race number, simple to report by the publishers and simple to report by those covering the industry. Of course, The Number has been in horrific decline. Take a look at the State of the News Media circulation chart (a third of the way down a long page) and you can see 15 straight reporting periods in single-digit decline, tracked since 2003. Clearly, circulation is still dropping, though it will take the next six-month comparisons, using these new metrics, to establish new benchmarking.

That’s one of the reasons The Number is gone — optics do count — but more importantly the nature of ad buying has changed dramatically in that same period. Newspaper ad revenues have been halved while online ad revenues will approximate newspaper ad revenues this year or next. While halved to $25 billion annually or so, newspapers, with the new ABCs, have made a directional shift to satisfying those advertisers; recall that even the New York Times, the digital leader with 25 percent of its ad revenues being digital, still depends on the print for three-quarters of its dollars.

So The Number is all but gone. Sure, there’s still “Total Circulation,” and that’s led some to do apples-to-apples comparison to the last set of numbers from last fall. It’s not a fruitful exercise, given the magnitude of the changes.

“ABC and the industry never intended that ‘total circulation’ to be a metric of success,” John Murray, the Newspaper Association of America’s vice president of audience development told me this week.

That’s because there is a now a whole raft of numbers, a new set collected by publishers, verified by ABC and used, over time, quite differently by advertisers. Trying to understand the difference between the old report and the new report is best done either dead sober or after a six-pack; anywhere in between may leave you wanting. I appreciate Poynter’s Rick Edmonds thorough picking through the changes, the new lexicon and taxonomy, and I won’t repeat his observations.

What’s significant to me about the changes are two big things, one theoretical and one practical, and therein, I think, lie the newsonomics of the new ABC report.

The big picture recognition here, as publishers and major advertisers have wrestled the new system to the ground, is that the age of simple mass is gone. Counting is increasingly about niche. How many of the readers are paid readers of print? How many read e-editions, and, of those, how many read replicas and how many read dynamic products? How many readers get free, but requested, packets of news and ads, and how many readers get the packets because they’ve been targeted (affluent households) just because of where they live? And there’s more nuance than that.

Just as the digital marketing world has increasingly provided agencies and advertisers with a trove of audience data, the print world is slowly responding. While advertisers can only track these differing print niches with differing coupon codes, or a spectrum of differing 1-800 call-in numbers, print at least can be niched in some ways, even though it doesn’t offer the intensive harvesting of data that digital does. Of course, the various e-alternatives, from “online” to tablet to smartphone, are offering advertisers the ability to say “I’ll take this, but not that” and to mix and match print and digital buying as never before. While advertisers could do some picking and choosing before, they were often flying blind and these new categories of circulation counting — verified circulation and branded editions to “requested” or “targeted” delivery — give them better data on which to make those choices. Consider the data advertisers get with this first report just the beginning of new sets of metrics to come.

On a practical level, we can see a couple of fundamental ways the new ABCs will impact the marketplace:

  • Sunday and preprints: Sunday Select is the flavor of the age, as companies from Gannett to McClatchy to Belo eagerly make up for declining paid Sunday circulation with packets of news and ads delivered to non-payers. “Paid is no longer the determinant of value,” says Murray — and that’s a huge change for an industry that long differentiated its ad appeal on the basis of paying customers. If readers opt in (“requested”), that’s a big plus for advertisers. Why? That shows “engagement,” that magic word all online publishers seek. Opt-out (or “targeted”) denotes a little lesser value, but since those being targeted are higher-demographic households, advertisers still like to reach them. In the new stats, though, they’ll be able to see how many paid, how many requested and how many targeted editions got distributed on Sunday. Some will try to differentiate results among the three. I asked John Murray where advertisers are at in tracking the differing results among paid, requested, and targeted, on a scale from one to ten. “I’d put them at 2s and 9s,” he told me, explaining with a couple of numbers how much in transition we are. Some — think Best Buy, for instance — are 9s, trying to track and compare everything, including differing print deliveries. Others are 2s, still essentially buying mass, but planning on doing more tracking over time.

Sunday is huge for newspapers, as a third or more of their revenue is driven by that one day. And preprints, or the Sunday circulars — all those glossy colorful ad inserts from the big box stores — are now make or break for that Sunday take. “Media [reading] habits are changing faster than ad habits,” says Randy Novak, a Gatehouse veteran and now vice president of industry research and relations for Geomentum, a local focused ad agency. “People like to touch those preprints.”

Let’s complete the value circle here. Who loves those preprints? Twenty-five to 44-year-old women, says Murray, and they are coveted consumers. Consider Sunday and its preprints to be the biggest raison d’etre of the new ABCs.

Further, add in a Wednesday or a Thursday midweek market day, says Novak, and you’ve got a newer, winning formula. We begin to see further definition of a strategy that is emerging at daily newspaper companies. That strategy: Sunday print/daily digital, especially tablet, as a coming subscription/ad satisfying program coming to a city near you by 2013-14 (“The newsonomics of Sunday paper/daily tablet subscriptions“). Or Sunday/Wednesday print, and the rest digital. We’re headed there, I believe, as the economics of advertising and the emerging reading habits of news readers merge to forge new revenue and cost-saving plans. (One thing to watch closely in the next sets of ABC reports: How well Sunday print paid is doing.)

  • Proving — and disproving — e-edition value: E-replica editions have been used by some papers to artificially pump up those sagging circulation numbers (“How much can we trust e-edition numbers?“). Publishers have told me privately that while they packaged — and counted — those replica products, only a small percentage of readers actively used them. Starting with the ABC fall report, there will be some effort to count usage — a nod to advertisers who figured out the scheme. In addition, we’re already seeing “replica” and “non-replica” parsed out, which should help separate out the e-chaff. More interestingly, as we see increasingly nuanced reporting of specific tablet and smartphone usage, we’ll be getting an emerging picture both of how news is really being read and how marketers can effectively read readers via these new platforms.

Just as we’re moving away from the One Number for print, we’re emerging from a time of counting those rudimentary uniques and pageviews online, with time spent digitally the big issue of the day for all publishers, but especially for those trying to sell those digital subscriptions. Where we may be headed: Time on Brand, as the biggest — and/or best — news brands try to satisfy readers, and bring along marketers to serve them — on a changing-through-day array of devices.

March 15 2010

13:27

Must-read: PEJ’s annual State of the News Media report goes live

Each year the US Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ) produces a report on the State of the News Media, aggregating other reports on what has happened to news organisations during the previous 12 months and providing its own research into what lies ahead.

The 2010 report weighs in on paywalls, and why there’s still a “hill to climb”; the increasingly niche-focus of both traditional news organisations and new online-only players; and features a special report on the state of community media or citizen journalism projects.

It’s an incredibly thorough survey – featuring figures on changes in advertising spend across all sectors and analysis of news sites’ traffic figures – and is best read in full at this link.

Some highlight quotes:

Advertising:

  • 79 per cent of those surveyed said they had never or rarely clicked on an online ad.

News content:

  • “When it comes to audience numbers online, traditional media content still prevails, which means the cutbacks in old media heavily impact what the public is learning through the new.”
  • Online news coverage is still geared towards breaking news. New technologies for live reporting can provide a less vetted version of releases/press conferences;
  • BUT: “While technology makes it easier for citizens to participate, it is also giving newsmakers more influence over the first impression the public receives.”
  • News organisations are becoming disseminators rather than gatherers of news, and becoming more reactive than proactive.

Social media:

  • Eventually, the news operations that develop social networking strategies and distribution mechanisms well might be able to convince advertisers that they have special access to attractive news consumers – especially those who influence the tastes of others;
  • Blogging, amongst news consumers, is declining in frequency;
  • 80 per cent of links from blogs and social media sites studied are to US legacy media.

Niche news:

  • “Old media are trying to imagine the new smaller newsroom of the future in the relic of their old ones. New media are imagining the new newsroom from a blank slate.”
  • “Online, it is becoming increasingly clear, consumers are not seeking out news organisations for their full news agenda.”

More on the report’s take on niche news at this link…

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