You’ve arrived at a blog about transforming the companies that publish newspapers. And it’s a blog with an unorthodox point of view.
Here it is: News will not save you.
Why not? Because the disruption that’s pounding newspaper companies is not about people Read the rest of this entry
Media folks, can we all agree on this statement?
- We’re in the audience business.
If you disagree, we need to talk, and we’ll do that in a minute.
But first, here’s the nut graf:
As an audience business, we’re overdue for a drastic rethink of what we do. Too often, we’re still doing 20th-century audience thinking amid the starkly different realities of the 21st century. We’re getting pounded on the audience front, and we have to figure out what audience strategies will work in this new environment.
Now let’s see if we can all get on the same page regarding the importance of audience:
- If you’re thinking we’re in the news business, you’re right. We love the news, and we’re proud of what it does for people. But the business reason for doing news is to have an audience. Without an audience, we don’t have a business.
- If you’re thinking we’re in the sales business, you’re right. But what we sell is access to our audiences. Without an audience, we don’t have a business.
Audience is the starting point and the centerpiece of our local media businesses. That’s because, as Bob Gilbert, Morris Publishing Group’s vice president for audience, says: “Revenue follows audience.”
The massive change
To see our way in the 21st century, we need to understand and accept what’s happening to audience right now. We need to adapt our existing business models and adopt new ones if we want to prosper.
The graphic above speaks volumes. It shows how the flow of information (the green pipe) is expanding exponentially as digital technologies drive us from the mass-media era into the infinite-media era.
The mass-media business model was built for the very limited information environment of the 20th century. The few who owned printing presses or broadcast equipment produced content aimed at the mass audience — namely, news and entertainment. And the masses flocked to us because there wasn’t much else. Advertisers flocked to us because we had the mass audience.
What’s different now
Consider these crucial differences in the 21st-century information environment:
- The volume of accessible content is zooming toward infinity
- Access is getting easier, faster and more universal
- Content is being originated by almost everyone, and shared with audiences large or small
- The internet landscape is populated by billions of content sources producing or sharing content on every imaginable topic.
- The “masses” are no longer reachable in any one place. They are zooming around in the infinite space of the internet, getting what they want from millions, even billions of sources.
People have been liberated to go get the specific content they want. And most of it, not surprisingly, is stuff that’s directly pertinent and interesting to them individually, and not necessarily to the masses.
News for the masses still has a place, but it is a shockingly smaller space than just 10 or 20 years ago. News isn’t about “what I need” or “what’s going on in my life,” and it’s in direct competition with a vast amount of content that is.
There are two painful outcomes for us:
- We’re getting a much smaller audience share in print than we did. Many local papers now have household penetrations of 25% or less on weekdays and 35% or less on Sunday. Just 10 years ago, our penetrations were twice that high.
- We’re getting a much smaller audience share in digital than many other players.
We all know #1, although we try not to think about it. But a lot of us aren’t fully aware of #2.
The chart below shows the ranking of the 20 most popular websites in one of the Morris newspaper markets, based on the number of visits made by people living in the market.
Facebook and Google are eating our lunch. Our news sites get less than 1% of local visits in every one of our markets, and yours do in your markets, too. No wonder we’re all having trouble making significant money by selling banner ads on our websites. We’re tiny compared to our competitors.
This is not an indictment of news, or of us. It simply shows that news will only get you a small share of the local audience’s attention in the digital era. The internet is about “me,” and news isn’t.
So there you have it — the audience game is now totally different from what it was in the mass-media era.
And here we are — local media companies that depend on audience to make our business models work.
What are the key facts on which we need to build our next-generation audience strategies?
- Nobody will ever own a majority of the audience again, either print or digital.
- Advertisers need more complex help as they try to reach their target consumers in the uncharted vastness of the internet.
- Fewer and fewer advertisers even want to reach a mass audience anymore. They want to reach specific individuals who are in the market for particular products.
- No wonder, then, that targeted digital display advertising is by far the fastest-growing local digital category. Advertisers are using programmatic bidding to reach consumers who fit their customer profiles or those who have searched recently for the products they sell.
Newspaper companies face a double imperative:
- We have to figure out how to deliver high-value narrow audiences that match advertisers’ targets in a post-mass age. We need to break out of the mass-audience mindset that shapes almost everything we do.
- Meanwhile, we also need to sustain our mass audience (mainly print) for as long as possible, because it’s still the main source of our revenue.
We’ll keep doing #2, because it’s what we do. I would urge that we try hard to provide more individually useful information in our markets, recognizing what people want now.
However, I’m more concerned about #1.
What we need to do
We need to do some hard thinking about which audiences in local markets have the most value and therefore are most worth pursuing. This is an ongoing process at Morris, among our vice presidents of audience.
Home buyers? Car buyers? Job seekers? Finance, insurance and mortgage customers? What else? Then we need to set appropriate priorities among the most promising target groups and figure which solutions will work best for each of them.
In some cases, the answer may be to create a product or solution targeted specifically at that audience segment. Websites? Mobile apps? Lead-generation initiatives? Narrow print products? Or what about in-store events, promotions and contests?
In other cases — in many cases, I believe — the better answer may be programmatic web display advertising that targets specific consumer attributes across multiple websites. We need to be selling our local business into the audiences of the monster sites that are out-drawing us on audiences in our own markets.
And in all cases, local businesses need help being found when local people search. This means that search engine marketing and search-engine optimization are now become critical audience-delivery services that local media companies need to provide.
And these few thoughts are just the beginning. The days are over when local media companies could just do news and count on huge audiences, and we have a lot to learn.
Changes of this magnitude are like the death of a loved one. They need to be acknowledged and grieved — and, at the same time, we need to move on.
Today, we need to become sophisticated audience thinkers who understand where the people are going and can deploy multiple tactics to reach them. The businesses in our communities need our help.
We’re under pressure to grow in our skills and understanding. It’s a time when we need to be changing who we are and what we are capable of doing. Will we rise to the challenge?
In the local media business, whatever hurts retailers hurts us, too. They’re feeling a big hurt right now, and we need to help them fight back.
That big hurt is a steady and continuous decline in store traffic. This means loss of sales, and that leads nowhere good for them — or for local media.
- Figuring out how the business has to change.
- Changing behaviors in the organization to get the new things done.
As most people in the newspaper industry can testify, both of these are difficult and relentless. There’s no “one and done” in a disruption as massive as the digital revolution.
And, unfortunately, success at No. 1 is no guarantee of success at No. 2.
Over last three years, I’ve blogged frequently about No. 1. This time let’s look at No. 2. Read the rest of this entry
What does the local media company of the future look like?
At this point, the answer is pretty clear. There will be two kinds of media companies:
- Those that continue to focus on their traditional media channels — newspaper, broadcast television channel, radio station(s) — and therefore shrink along with the advertising spending on those media.
- Those that morph into local media houses that can connect any advertiser with any audience, through platforms, technologies and channels they own or don’t, to win dollars that are moving into digital advertising and marketing.
Let’s look beyond the waves of media disruption we’re experiencing these days. Let’s try to imagine the end state, when media disruption gets done.
Wait … will it ever get done? Yes, I think so — at the time when virtually everyone on the planet, during every waking moment, has instant access at will to virtually the entire body of human knowledge. (Maybe in sleeping moments, too.) Read the rest of this entry
If you’re old enough to remember Saturday Night Live in its glory days, maybe you remember the hilarious sketches set in the Scotch Tape store at the old mall.
The bit was centered on, and got its laughs from, a ridiculously narrow business model centered on a single product, sold in a retail location that was no longer the cool place to be. (I’d love to link to a clip here, but I couldn’t find one. NBC must be closely guarding its copyright.)
Those sketches came to mind this week as I was trying to think of a metaphor for the newspaper business and its relentless concentration on news. News continues to be our industry’s central purpose and the heart of its business model for attracting audiences.
I laughed out loud when it occurred to me that we might be well on the way to becoming the Scotch Tape store, or “Scotch Boutique,” as they called it. But the idea is as painful as it is funny. Read the rest of this entry
“I want my ad to go right here,” Jerry Coolman said. He pointed at the middle two columns at the top of the newspaper page — right in the middle of an article. He wanted his ad for lawn tractors to hit readers smack between the eyes.
“Jerry, we can’t do that,” I said. “That’s the reader’s space — we can’t plunk an ad down in the middle of it.”
That was 1983. Now, twenty years later, it turns out we can plunk an ad down in the reader’s space. It’s being done more and more, and it’s being called by a new name: “native advertising.” Read the rest of this entry
About five years ago, on a weekend, Derek May — then publisher of the St. Augustine (FL) Record — was doing what many publishers were doing at the time: Trying to figure out the steep decline in advertising revenue he was seeing in his unit’s financials.
What was the main cause of the decline? The recession was the driver, of course, but was it mainly hitting certain categories of advertising? Certain types of advertisers? Big advertisers? Small advertisers? Read the rest of this entry