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March 31 2011

14:00

The newsonomics of oblivion

So, how long do newspapers have?

Two years ago, that question was on the lips of many as newspapers cut back deeply — in staff, in number of pages, in the very size of the page, and in selling their very headquarters and flagship buildings — in the depth of Deep Recession. We hear it less now. In part, that’s because many publishers and editors decided writing their own obituaries — talking about the sorry state of their enterprises and detailing the cutbacks for the public — wasn’t smart. In part, like any tired story, we’ve moved on and now occupy ourselves with digital reader payment strategems and with the discussions of how tablets and smartphones are, and aren’t, forever changing journalism.

Yet the question looms in the dark corners, in private conversations, and occasionally bursts into public view: “How long do newspapers have?”

Saturday, in Dallas, I moderated an on-stage conversation between two immoderate forces in daily journalism: The Deseret NewsClark Gilbert, aka “the baby-faced dean of disruption,” as his alternative rival, the Salt Lake City Weekly, has called him; and John Paton, the Digital First, bomb-throwing CEO of the post-bankrupt (and up from cardboard desks and leaky newsroom pipes) Journal Register Company, not long ago the bottom feeder of the industry.

Paton had tossed aside his usual JRC change presentation. Instead, he went with 10 tweets, each, in turn, well-retweeted.

The first and second: “The newspaper model is broken & can’t be fixed” and “Newspapers will disappear in less than 10 years unless their biz model is changed now.”

His point: Piecemeal change is a dead-end, given the converging downward spirals of the business. Only massive, digital-first strategies and re-organizations that scrap old structures, budgets, job descriptions — and, massively, costs — have any hope of porting today’s newspaper companies to that other side of a mainly digital news age.

He’s right, of course. No, not necessarily about the 10-year prediction. It could be five or fifteen, but that makes little difference to the notion. Today’s daily newspaper companies have little chance of surviving in anything resembling tomorrow’s form very far in the future.

In fact, as I talk, privately, to those running the companies, they, too, are largely in agreement. While they talk little publicly these days, the fact remains: You can’t find anyone who says he yet has a proven, sustainable business model for moving forward.

That’s the reason we’re seeing such significant embrace of digital reader walls and fences. The New York Times, the Dallas Morning News, and the Augusta Chronicle all share a goal: get off the road to oblivion and somehow find a new route, a life-saving detour, in uncharted territory. Fear of oblivion is becoming, finally and for more publishers, a motivator for more systematic change. If it works, a new digital reader revenue line could be one important building block of a stable new business model, though it won’t be enough by itself.

Oblivion like the once-famous “revolution” in Gil Scott-Heron’s song won’t be advertised. No one’s going to send out a press release or hold a news conference to say, “It’s over.” Newspapers have numerous fellow travelers among legacy media on the road. As we heard this week, CBS News’ ratings have been in decline since 1992. Somehow we will finally pull the plug on that format, but in the meantime, it’s a long winding-down, marked by lesser and lesser capacity to both do the work of journalism and to see its impacts.

Let’s look at several data points as we explore this notion of the newsonomics of oblivion.

How can we measure the threat of disappearance, of slipping away into history?

Let’s start with this number: 20 quarters. It has been 20 quarters since the U.S. newspaper industry experienced a quarter’s performance that was better than that same quarter a year earlier. It was way back in the second quarter of 2006 that the industry last experienced growth.

Things just keep getting worse, in deep recession, in lesser recession, in timid recovery, and now in a wider economic recovery that has lifted into positive (year-over-year, actual dollar growth) territory all other media that depend on advertising for much of their income. Broadcast and cable TV, radio and magazines have all regained a positive revenue path, as online media’s growth has shot out in the growth lead, the recession itself accelerating the movement of dollars to it.

Gannett’s recent public report, saying publishing division revenues will be down between 6 and 7 percent for the quarter now concluding, is indicative of the continuing deep malaise.

While first quarter industry numbers won’t be publicly reported ’til mid-April, look for them to be down 6 to 10 percent in ad revenue. Print advertising just isn’t recovering. Even good growth rates of 15 to 30 percent in digital — helped by more “online-only,” and fewer bundled-with-print, ad products — can’t come close to making up for print decline. “We’re now growing digital at almost 30 percent,” one CEO recently told me. “But we’d have to grow it at 80 percent or more to make up the [print] losses.”

The numbers suggest that only more cost-cutting retains profitability, which is running 5 to 10 percent currently, the black maintained only by the ongoing staff and other reductions of the past several years. (Witness the recent cuts at Gannett and McClatchy.)

The story is the same throughout the industry, with similar trends in Japan, continental Europe, and the UK; only one of London’s half-dozen quality dailies is even turning a profit these days.

We can look at the models built by Axel Springer. Not well known to Americans, the German publisher is the largest newspaper publisher in Europe, with huge reach overall in 36 countries, including 170 newspapers and magazines, over 60 online offerings for different target groups, and TV and radio properties. In print, it’s the leader in Germany, in both ad revenue and market reach, touching 53 percent of the German population annually. It says it is second only to innovator Schibsted in digital (as percentage of total) revenues.

And yet: Its own forecast future is highly problematic.

By 2020, those extended lines paint a blurry picture, says Gregor Waller, who has just left Axel Springer as vice president for strategy and innovation to start a new digital venture. Waller’s presentation at a recent World Association of Newspapers/IFRA conference is among the best I’ve seen among news publishers. It looks honestly at what’s happening now — and what’s likely to happen — and draws logical, if heart-stopping, conclusions.

Citing the familiar trends of increased advertiser choice, mobile reader migration, the social web revolution, and print decline, Waller’s “conservative” projection forecasts that, by 2020:

  • Print circulation revenue will drop by 50 percent;
  • Classifieds revenue will drop by 90 percent;
  • Display revenue will drop by 30 percent;
  • With online ad revenue, growing at a compounded maximum 11 percent rate, there will be “no way to close the revenue gap with online advertising.”

All of which results in a “huge revenue gap.”

Waller’s conclusion: “Digital advertising will play an important role, but without paid content, publishing houses with a big editorial infrastructure for daily quality news will not survive.”

Which is another way to describe oblivion for the industry as we now know it.

Axel Springer is aggressively testing paid metered models at its Berliner Morgenpost and Hamburger Abendblatt, paralleling The New York Times’ major move this week, and that of more than two dozen U.S. dailies — which have, or soon will, paid schemes.

Waller would be the first to tell you that digital reader revenue isn’t the panacea, but one important piece to creating a sustainable new business model.

John Paton will tell you that digital reader revenue is a distraction, and that the radical restructuring of newspaper companies is their own possibility of finding that future.

They’re both right.

In 2011, it’s a Rubik’s Cube that can’t be solved, with one of Hollywood’s looming, time-ticking-down deadlines. A big twist here, a little one there, and then lots more, we can only hope, will provide a solution. We can be agnostic as to whether that model comes out of the legacy companies, out of cable and broadcast, out of public media, out of for-profit start-ups, or, likely, some combination of those. But we need solutions that provide stable funding for, as Waller puts it, “big editorial infrastructure for daily quality news.”

The threat of oblivion should be a powerful motivator, and we now see — finally — after a decade of decline, its specter moving us away from incremental, “experimental” tests to a fundamental restructuring of the business of news.

Image by Thomas Hawk used under a Creative Commons license.

October 08 2010

12:12

#WEFHamburg: WaPo mulling its own paywall plus all the news from the World Editors Forum

Yesterday at the World Editors Forum in Hamburg, Raju Narisetti, managing editor of the Washington Post, told Journalism.co.uk that the Post was not ruling out its own paid-content model.

The quality of the content we produce needs to be well funded, and one of the ways could be to make users pay for it, not all of it. I am not a big believer of putting everything behind a paywall. I am a big believer in saying we should monetise.

More power to the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal in figuring out and if they do we would be happy to look at that. We may find our own way.

You can read the full interview with Narisetti at this link and below are all the stories from the WEF meeting on Journalism.co.uk:



For a digested round-up of the conference subscribe to our podcasts on iTunes.Similar Posts:



October 06 2010

14:13

#WEFHamburg: WAN-IFRA calls on Iran to improve press freedom standards

The World Association of Newspapers and IFRA (WAN-IFRA) used the opening ceremony of the Word Editors Forum (WEF) in Hamburg to call upon Iranian authorities to adhere to international standards of press freedom.

Presenting the annual Golden Pen of Freedom Award to Iranian journalist Ahmad Zeid-Abadi, Xavier Vidal-Folch, president of WEF, said Iranian journalists are “essentially trapped in a prison within a prison. A hellish place, where, in Ahmad Zeid-Abadi’s own words, ‘the desperation they create in prison is so bad you think it’s the end of the world’.

“Though we honour Mr Zeid-Abadi here today, it is also important to remember the other jailed journalists, the ones who don’t win awards but nevertheless suffer under despotic regimes, We should never forget them and we in the international newspaper community should do our utmost to win their release.”

Zeid-Abadi, who has worked for a range of daily and weekly newspapers in the country, is currently in prison in Iran. He was jailed, not for the first time in June 2009, after calling for Iranians to boycott the country’s election. He was sentenced to six years imprisonment and has previously been jailed and banned from practising journalism, because of his work.

According to WEF, 22 Iranian journalists are currently in prison in the country, accounting for around a fifth of all journalists imprisoned worldwide.

Accepting the award on his behalf, fellow Iranian journalist Akbar Ganji made an emotional speech in which he said treatment in prison had driven Zeid-Abadi to the “edge of suicide”. Ganji, who has himself spent time in jail because of his work as a journalist, said the family members of press freedom fighters and activists are often overlooked.

I have no doubt that if Ahmad Zeid-Abadi was here with us, he would have shared the honor of this prestigious award with other political prisoners.

One must interpret these awards as a kind of ethical and moral endorsement of democratic activists who are committed to liberty and human rights.

Today members of the world community of journalists have selected Ahmad Zeid-Abadi as the courageous journalist of 2010 fighting for democracy, and have honored him with the Golden Pen Award. This is a judicious and fair choice worthy of Ahmad Zeid-Abadi. He uses the might of his pen not just to tell the truth and expose political corruption.

In addition he also tries responsibly to use his pen and his ideas to make the world more ethical, reduce people’s pain and suffering. Without a doubt this pen will bring its responsibilities to fruition, for what that pen writes gushes forth from the soul of the person holding that pen and is the bright and shining mirror of his noble heart and his humane ideas.

Last month, Iranian blogger Hossein Derakhshan, who has dual citizenship in Iran and Canada, was jailed for 19 years after being convicted of “collaborating with hostile governments, committing blasphemy and propaganda against the Islamic Republic, and managing an obscene website”, according to an Al Jazeera report.

Read Xavier Vidal-Folch’s speech in full at this link…

Read Akbar Ganji’s speech in full at this link…

More from Journalism.co.uk:

Half the world’s jailed journalists were working online, says CPJ

Human rights lawyer arrested in IranSimilar Posts:



August 31 2010

06:32

2010 INNOVATIONS IN NEWSPAPER WORLD REPORT (6): THE EUROPEAN NEWSPAPER OF THE YEAR

2010-08-31_0724

Last week, the Pacific Area Newspaper Publishers Association’s Congress devoted one of its main session to our project in Portugal.

The INNOVATION’s i newspaper, as INMA’s CEO Earl Wilkinson, who was there, says, “redefines what a brand can be in print with a “daily magazine” design so stunning and different as to defy characterisation.”

Get the full report here.

August 23 2010

12:27

2010 INNOVATIONS IN NEWSPAPERS (4): REAL NEWSROOM INTEGRATION

2010-08-23_1317

INNOVATION’s partner Juan Señor writes in this chapter about how to fo from “paper centric” newsrooms to real integrated ones.

The chapter includes the last version of our most popular graphic about this transition from “print and online centric newsroom” to the “content and audiences” one.

Get the full report here.

12:05

2010 INNOVATIONS IN NEWSPAPERS (3): MARKETING AND ADVERTISING SALES IN A MULTIMEDIA WORLD

2010-08-23_1257

INNOVATION’s Carlo Campos ad Javier Ramírez Bañares write about the new business operations of multimedia companies, in a chapter full of charts and graphics, and some best practices.

Get the full report here.

11:57

2010 INNOVATIONS IN NEWSPAPERS WORD REPORT (2): NEW DIGITAL NARRATIVES

2010-08-23_1252

INNOVATION’s Chiqui Esteban writes about the New Digital Narratives in  chapter full of graphic examples.

Get the full report here.

11:51

2010 INNOVATIONS IN NEWSPAPERS WORLD REPORT (1): HORST PIRKER FOREWORD

Horst Pirker

A sample of the Foreword in this year’s report written by Horst Pirker, Group Chief Executive Officer of Styria Media Group AG, and first Vice President WAN-IFRA.

Get the full report here.

April 15 2010

11:19

International survey of newspapers’ business strategy calls for executives

Newspaper executives are being asked to complete a survey to provide a better understanding of how newspapers are reacting and changing their businesses to respond to ongoing changes to traditional news operations.

This is the second such survey carried out by The World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA), the UK’s University of Central Lancashire and the Norwegian School of Management. The short World Newspaper Future & Change Study 2010 should take no more than 15 minutes to complete and will address how newspapers are adapting their businesses for digital and in response to ongoing international and localised financial pressures.

Last year, despite extremely challenging financial circumstances for many newspapers around the world during the financial downturn, the majority of the 657 respondents indicated that their companies were in innovation mode, creating new print and digital products and new businesses, such as insourced printing, training and events.

Respondents’ identities will remain confidential.

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