Innovating to Stay in the Game – Older Media in the Digital Age #58 #cong17

By Cian Connaughton.

There was a time long ago when you'd find it hard to buy a newspaper with a photo in it, such was the old print media's preference for text. Those days are long gone and soon the challenge could be finding a newspaper at all.

This is because the last decade has seen the rise of a number of existential challenges for traditional media. If they continue, many of our traditional media will be forced to close. 

The challenges vary but almost all are linked in some way to the growth of the internet. 

Google and Facebook have provided by far the biggest challenge. Both now relieve traditional media of billions of dollars, euro and pounds each year in advertising revenue. The pull is because both Facebook and Google allow advertisers to target their key audiences significantly more accurately. Who wouldn’t use a more cost effective and exacting tool when spend a marketing budget – I know from professional experience.  

Another issue is that consumers are no longer buying newspapers in anything like the numbers that they used to.  Most Irish newspapers have seen falls in their print sales of up to fifty percent since the new century started. 

Selling significantly fewer printed papers at the same time that advertising revenue has fallen means revenue has been hit on the double.

Directly linked to this fall in paper purchasing is the rise of online-only media. I’m thinking here of pioneers like Ireland’s online-only news site and the international Huffington Post. Both provide consumers with quality daily news and analysis for no charge. 

Faced with this challenge, traditional media have responded in lots of different ways. 

While all have embraced online, the big variable is the speed of their move and the resources they put behind it.

The innovative responses of two stalwarts of traditional media have stood out and are worth looking at in more detail.

The UK-based publication The Guardian has taken an innovative approach to generating revenue from its readers. It has meant that the paper now has more paying readers (800,000) than it did in it its heyday as a leading newspaper in the 80s (500,000).

So, how has this been achieved while the paper has steadfastly refrained from introducing a paywall for readers?   

The first group of readers who make payments are the most traditional “subscribers”. They pay €19 each month for a digital issue of the paper each day, as well as additional premium content on the website. Their number stands at around 200,000.  

The next are “supporters”, who pay €4.99 each month. Though they’d get access to most of the news on the Guardian website without paying this amount, they are making a conscious decision to financially support the paper. 

Benefits of being a supporter include exclusive emails from journalists and avoiding pop-up ads on your mobile device. There has been a huge jump in the numbers of supporters from 75,000 to 300,000 in the last year. 

The final, most innovative category is “donors”. These are individuals who make one-off payments to The Guardian website. This involves making a direct appeal to readers at the end of online stories, asking for support. Crucially, this new approach has produced over 300,000 one-off payments. This has produced millions in new revenue for the media group. 

The big mark of success is that the media group now has a greater income from this mix of readers than it does from advertising. 

Another accolade is the fact that this approach has been followed by News UK, publishers of The Times and The Sun. You can read the full story here. 

Another legendary newspaper that has successfully innovated its way to a stronger position is The New York Times. 

It too has seen a big turnaround in recent years. The group lost $600m in print advertising between 2005-10, placing it in a very tough position. Contrast this with the fact that it has doubled its digital subscribers from 760,000 in 2013 to 1,600,000 in 2016. It has also grown its digital advertising revenue by almost 20% in the last year.

The secret of its success has come in part through two innovative approaches. 

The first has been a focus on creating video content. Reports, anaylsis pieces and reviews have all started being published in video form.

The second has been the adoption of a digital-first policy that sees content published online before it appears in print.  

Both of these approaches have been copied in Ireland. Without a doubt, the Irish media has been facing a similar challenge, so it makes sense to try out approaches that have worked elsewhere.   

Both the Guardian and The New York Times have innovated to stay in the game. How successful these approaches will prove remains to be seen. 

One thing is clear though, when faced with the biggest challenges to their survival, they’ve had to radically change their approach.

CongRegation © Eoin Kennedy 2017 eoin at congregation dot ie