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 Boutique 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 Boutique. But the idea is as painful as it is funny.
Before I go any further, I need to say this ......[more]
14 July 2014 · By Steve Gray
“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, 20 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 a new name: “native advertising.”
Some are hailing it as a breakthrough for advertisers and for media company revenues. Others are reviling it as ......[more]
16 June 2014 · By Steve Gray
About five years ago, on a weekend, Derek May — then publisher of the St. Augustine Record in Florida, United States — 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.
His question: 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?
Thanks to his background in accounting systems, he was able to plunge into the Morris Publishing Group’s business data warehouse to sort it out. After a while, he realised none of the standard reports answered a key question: How many businesses were advertising in the most recent period compared to the previous period?......[more]
20 May 2014 · By Steve Gray
To someone who has only a hammer, everything looks like a nail. In the media industry, the hammer we have is news. And right now, the newest nail is mobile.
With mobile usage exploding, our industry is determined to pound that nail with news as hard and fast as we can. It looks like a must-do, a matter of survival, and — we hope — a new opportunity to reach people, sell advertising, and make money.
But mobile is not the nail we think it is.
By thinking of mobile as a distribution channel for news, we are missing what mobile really is. It’s not a channel — it’s a situation. And that situation is producing a new set of human needs and behaviours that present new opportunities.
In that new space, news can expect to get a certain share of users’ time and attention. We want and need to get that share. But that share will be tiny compared to the new, uniquely mobile uses that are emerging.
Our fixation on news will almost surely cause us to miss things we could and should do to win in the local media space.
It’s happened before.
When the desktop Internet arrived, while we ......[more]
21 April 2014 · By Steve Gray
Say the word “recruitment” and most newspaper executives groan. Over the last seven or eight years, it has shrunk to just a fraction of its former size, and it’s still slipping.
At Morris Publishing Group, we’ve been looking hard at this vertical for several months. We’ve been trying to figure out two things:
- How can we do better at what’s left of our existing business.
- How can we create new wins in this space?
We’re beginning to see the path ahead, so it’s a good time to share some of what we’ve learned.
What’s happened to recruitment is a classic case of disruptive innovation. We ruled the space in the pre-digital era. Then new digital technologies enabled a new set of players to come in underneath our expensive print solutions. They attracted big audiences and took away huge amounts of our business.
Our industry went to digital, too, but we slowed only the revenue declines. And, of course, we had a whopping recession to accelerate the trends....[more]
24 March 2014 · By Steve Gray
Disruption of the mass media is a big subject. But here’s an even bigger one: the incredible amount of good this same disruption is bringing to humanity worldwide.
So this time out, let’s forget about the mass media for a few minutes. Let’s take a look at the massive and mostly positive impact this digital revolution is having and will continue to have on humanity.
To begin, let’s look again at the “infinite pipe” graphic I’ve used several times before in this blog.
This chart illustrates how the flow of information among humans has expanded from almost nothing during most of our 200,000-year history to near infinity in just the last decade or so. A few weeks ago, I wrote about this from the perspective of the media. Now let’s look at it from the perspective of humanity....[more]
17 February 2014 · By Steve Gray
Nothing is more deeply ingrained in the newspaper industry than the definition of news. It’s the foundation of what we do, the “product” we use to attract and serve consumer audiences, and the platform on which we sell most of our advertising.
Now the definition desperately needs fundamental change, as I’ll document below. If we hope to be relevant and engaging to the people in our markets, we need to start over, beginning with a fresh answer to the question, “What is news?”
Nobody in the industry wants to do this, and very few are. But a blog posting a couple of weeks ago by Andrew Davis, aimed at the magazine industry, pointed out what’s needed. Here’s the payload paragraph:
“What are you doing to change what you print? How can we blame consumers for canceling their print subscriptions when we haven’t redefined what role the print product plays in the digital world? I challenge you to put yourself in the shoes of your primary audience. Spend the day consuming the content they consume, visiting the Web sites they visit. Then ask yourself what you could do to make your print product more valuable, given the experience you’ve just encountered.” (Emphasis added.)
He’s talking about printed magazines. But the message is exactly on target for newspapers, and for both digital and print content. I’d rephrase that last sentence: “...what could you do to make all of your content more valuable, given the experience you've just encountered?”...[more]
20 January 2014 · By Steve Gray
When your industry is undergoing massive disruption, getting a glimpse of the future is priceless. The more you know about where things are going, the smarter you can be about what to do right now.
For that reason, the report released last week by Borrell Associates — “The Future of Legacy Media” — should be required reading for everyone responsible for the health and sustainability of any legacy media business in the United States and Canada. And for those elsewhere, the executive summary would make excellent reading as a directional indicator of what’s sure to happen around the world.
I’ve been a big fan of Borrell’s reports for almost a decade. Gordon Borrell and his team have consistently done an excellent job of producing data to help legacy media companies understand what’s happening to their business. And for me, the most useful pieces of their work have been their five-year forecasts of revenue and market share....[more]
16 December 2013 · By Steve Gray
In the midst of major change, we can only make the right moves if we properly understand what’s happening.
Right now, we in the mass media are wrestling with the most massive change we’ve ever seen. But, as in the parable of the blind men and the elephant, we’re only aware of the tiny part of this change that we touch every day.
The change is vastly bigger, much farther-reaching, and much longer lasting than we realise. We need to see the whole picture to understand what to do about it.
Seen in its true scope, this is the largest change in human history. It’s sweeping the planet, and we’re only in the early stages of it.
It will continue through this century and beyond, forever changing the fabric of daily human life, the dynamics of individual fulfillment, productivity, and freedom, and the structures of government, society, business, and the economy....[more]
11 November 2013 · By Steve Gray
I was surprised to hear those words come out of my mouth recently, during a strategic discussion about where our company, Morris Communications, needs to be in three to five years.
I heard myself say, “We need to realise that we’re witnessing the end of advertising as we’ve known it. Not this year, not next year, but over a period of not very many years.”
I’ll admit, there’s some hyperbole there. But there’s enough truth that anyone responsible for determining the future of a company built on traditional advertising revenue needs to start thinking that way.
I hasten to add that it’s not the end of advertising — far from it. But it’s the end — or at least the shrinking to near insignificance — of the Mass Media Era model of advertising that has been our way of life and the basis of our business.
Until I heard myself say it, I’d never framed the challenge in such extreme terms before. But I knew why I was saying it.
A few days earlier, I’d been preparing a strategic planning session for a board meeting of a small newspaper company whose board I chair.
Each year, I begin the discussion by laying out for the board the clearest views I can find regarding the future of the business. I had been putting together some charts to help the board see where our business stands and what might happen in the next few years.
First was a chart based on the Newspaper Association of America’s public reporting of annual advertising revenues among U.S. newspaper companies.
The chart shows total newspaper ad revenue, both print and digital. The steady decline is no secret in our industry, but seeing it in chart form points out how relentless it’s been.
As the stockbrokers say, past performance is no guarantee of future performance. And there are individual newspapers here and there that have beaten the trend for a quarter or two, or even for a year or two.
But for the industry as a whole, it’s hard to picture this revenue slide ending anytime soon.
That’s where we’ve been. But for good strategic planning, you also need the best possible guesses about what’s ahead....[more]