In much of the INMA network worldwide, the focus is on big news brands producing life-changing, business-building journalism that transforms democracies and speaks truth to power.
Yet among the other 99% of news publishers worldwide, the challenge is simply how to connect relevant content with relevant audiences being disrupted by digital technology.
In my recent travels, I got to know about a newspaper that didn’t exist 12 years ago but today is the largest Spanish-language daily newspaper in the world at 702,000 circulation.
The newspaper is Trome, a popular tabloid newspaper in Peru that has connected an emerging lower middle class with a brand that speaks its language and exudes its vibe.
As a product, Trome might not translate well to an international audience. The content is tame, local, family-oriented, and conservative –maybe even safe, as many local community newspapers can be.
Yet what does translate is how a newspaper that struggled out of the gate found its footing and created a new reader market of enough scale to break the unwritten rule that advertisers don’t want C and D demographic audiences....[more]
23 September 2013 · By Earl J. Wilkinson
In recent weeks, I have borne witness to the seeds of innovation being planted throughout the news industry. They come in all sorts of varieties. They involve people, programmes, processes, products.
For Singapore Press Holdings, it is the hire of its first data scientist to lead the company through the Big Data revolution as executives predict – after careful study of counterparts in Europe and North America – their market is on the verge of making the print-to-digital shift.
For Australian rivals Fairfax Media and News Corp., faced with the fresh structural shifts in print advertising, there is a rush to change the cultural foundations.
Fairfax Media has Google-fied its Sydney offices to encourage teamwork and camaraderie:
- Nobody has an office anymore.
- Nobody has an assigned desk.
- There are 130 seats for 180 sales reps, the not-so-subtle message being you should be out selling and not in the office.
- There are coffee nooks and rooms for remote Google video hangouts.
- Not even The Suits, including the CEO, has a desk, prompting bemusement among employees surprised to have a conversation with someone whom cultural traditions suggest they’re not supposed to have easy access to.
I’m told the twentysomethings love it, which is the likely intended target, as media companies need to get younger – fast – to attract the young platform-agile employees who are keys to our industry’s success. (Google Australia is about to move into the same building as Fairfax Media.)
Across town at the newly rechristened News Corp. Australia, a first-ever hackathon among 19 teams of technologists, journalists, marketing, and advertising executives produces a mind-bending slew of ideas to create digital products that grow audience, revenue, and brand.
Given 54 hours to come up with a presentable idea, the young teams pour their hearts out to peers and judges faced with the task of a Top 5. The room is filled with lessons:
- Technologists are the emerging superstars at legacy news publishers.
- New products, services, and ideas don’t need to cost a lot of money nor take a lot of time to ramp up.
- The best ideas need to be pitched succinctly. For the News Corp. hackathon, each team was given four minutes. Some great ideas under-performed because they couldn’t be communicated in a timely manner, a lesson for all of us.
- The old guys at news companies need to understand things like speed, innovation, and communication, too. Even if they aren’t producing products in 54 hours, they need to manage and encourage the new generations, and the graying judges (me included!) got a bird’s eye view of unleashed (young) innovation.
26 August 2013 · By Earl J. Wilkinson
Amid case studies of optimistic market expansion and advertising excellence at last week’s INMA South Asia Conference in New Delhi, the underlying question facing Indian publishers was sobering: Is India destined to follow the path of U.S. newspapers in terms of declines in circulation, advertising, and disinvestment in print?
The question took on greater significance with the rapid drop in the rupee’s value vs. the U.S. dollar – important since 65% of Indian newspapers’ newsprint is imported and purchased in U.S. dollars.
This was the constant chatter in the INMA conference’s hallways.
In presentation after presentation, Indian publishers put forward reasons the U.S. path was not inevitable:
- Unlike Western counterparts, there is significant “headroom” for print newspaper growth in second- and third-tier markets throughout India.
- Advertising as a percentage of GDP is at least half of what it is in Western markets and continues to rise.
- Literacy and population will continue to grow in the decades ahead, and rapid upward mobility along class lines will make the printed newspaper indispensable for the aspirational middle class looking upward, not sideways as in much of the rest of the world.
- Because of the uniqueness of Indian society, there is an intense hunger for knowledge – especially among the fast-changing rural parts of the country.
- The regionalisation of India is growing, not shrinking, affecting everything from politics to newspaper strategy. What is changing in rural India is different than digital India or higher-income India. Rural India is growing faster than urban India, thanks to the connectivity of roads, TV, and more. We are seeing the equalisation of aspiration.
Then there are business model comparisons.
For example, classified advertising was still 25% of revenues among U.S. newspapers in 2010 vs. only 5% of revenue in India. As another example, the business model for newspaper home delivery is uniquely cheap in India. So, the Indian mountain is different than the American mountain.
The world knows India’s print newspaper circulation continues to grow, yet we might not know the nuances. Since 2008, regional daily circulation is up 12%, English newspapers are up 3%, and “Hindi + regional” circulations are up 15.8%.
It is difficult to focus on a digital future amid so much print success....[more]
18 August 2013 · By Earl J. Wilkinson
How to structure continuous new product development at news media companies – notably the differences between innovating close to the core product and away from the core product – was the focus of a recent INMA report.
Innovators such as the Toronto Star, Schibsted, The Globe and Mail, Singapore Press Holdings, Dainik Bhaskar, Grupo Epensa, and The New York Times were among media companies identified as having developed strategies, systems, and processes to continually innovate with new products based on new business models generating new revenue streams.
Yet the report had one big flaw: It didn’t have a tidy bow to intellectually tie together how media companies must continuously pump out new products.
A new book by Rita Gunther McCrath, titled The End of Competitive Advantage may be that bow.
Here are the salient points to the book:
- The purpose of corporate strategy today is to attain a sustainable competitive advantage.
- Sustainable competitive advantage is eroding due to “volatile” and “uncertain” environments.
- Because of this volatility, strategy must increasingly be based on transient competitive advantage, exploiting short-term opportunities with speed and agility.
I believe this book hits newspaper and magazine publishes bang-on between the eyes because we are, obviously, an industry based on sustainable competitive advantage. And our culture continues to hold us back from innovating fast enough to get ahead of disruptions that are rocking the news industry.
Unfortunately for news publishers, the structures and systems behind today’s companies to gain maximum value from competitive advantage are liabilities when pursuing transient advantage: moving in and out of advantages over time....[more]
05 August 2013 · By Earl J. Wilkinson
The Graham family’s shocking sale of the Washington Post today to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is about two things: scale and innovation.
These are also the two worries that keep publishers of a certain size up at night these days, as they confront the technological re-wiring of their consumer markets and revenue sources.
The most interesting part of this story is not Bezos’ reasons for buying. It is the Grahams’ reasons for selling.
Washington Post Chairman Donald Graham summed up the strategic challenges facing his company in a letter to employees, which I’ve broken into five digestible bullet points:
- “As the newspaper business continued to bring up questions to which we have no answers, (we) began to ask ourselves if our small public company was still the best home for the newspaper.
- “Our revenues had declined seven years in a row.
- “We had innovated, and to my critical eye our innovations had been quite successful in audience and in quality, but they hadn’t made up for the revenue decline.
- “Our answer had to be cost cuts, and we knew there was a limit to that.
- “We were certain the paper would survive under our ownership, but we wanted it to do more than that. We wanted it to succeed.”
15 July 2013 · By Earl J. Wilkinson
Content marketing is spreading like a wildfire in the marketing community worldwide, and news publishers should fish out of this pond if they are serious about filling the print advertising hole.
According to the Content Marketing Institute, “content marketing” is a marketing technique that creates and distributes relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage an audience to drive profitable customer action.
Leave it to Wikipedia to simplify the definition: “Content marketing is any marketing format that involves the creation and sharing of media and publishing content in order to acquire customers.” Cited platforms include news, video, white papers, e-books, infographics, case studies, photos, guides, and more.
Crucial to understanding content marketing is that it is not designed to sell. Instead, through communicating with customers, the concept is to drive loyalty. Advertising agencies say content marketing improves brand awareness, which, in turn, drives customer acquisition and retention....[more]
08 July 2013 · By Earl J. Wilkinson
Across an international network of news publishers, it’s easy to delude oneself into believing that there are strategic outliers.
Every publisher believes they are unique. Every press association believes their country’s publishers are somehow outside the trends.
I find very few strategic outliers in the news industry worldwide. I do see tactical outliers, mostly in how responses to the market are timed. The most common mistake is along the “print vs. digital” divide.
Let’s be brutally clear: The clear direction for the news industry is digital. There is not a single exception on the planet. The only question is timing.
Here’s a simple, funny exercise I share with audiences who get uneasy – fast – when talking about print/digital because of the cultural toxicity of the debate within their companies: Will you be delivering news primarily via print or digital in:
- 100 years? Clearly, digital.
- 50 years? Clearly, digital.
- 20 years? Not sure.
- 10 years? Probably, print + digital. Maybe digital + print.
- Five years? Clearly, print + digital.
Across the 80-country INMA network, our reality today is that we are a “print + digital” industry. That’s a big, comfortable umbrella that brings everyone into the same room and allows us all to sit at the same table....[more]
02 July 2013 · By Earl J. Wilkinson
One of the dirty secrets of the news industry is the radically different performance of digital subscriptions company by company.
Throw out the New York Times and Financial Times – who nailed the product, design, and user experience – and you have a heart-stopping performance chart that looks like an analysis of a boom and bear financial market.
This fact has gotten lost in the foggy data being communicated by publishers.
When a publisher reports, say, 50,000 “digital subscribers,” liberalised rules by audit bureaus deflect the fact that there are free offers and print subscribers getting “connected” to their digital accounts included in the accounting.
What looks like success or progress may, in fact, be under-performance thrown into a muddy bucket of related numbers. Some of the announcements read like carefully crafted wordsmithing by attorneys!
What media company executives tell me privately, across the industry worldwide, is the radically different performance in digital subscriptions has nothing to do with content or design. It has everything to do with a very poor user sign-up experience online.
The consumer expects Amazon. Instead, they are getting a clunky registration process that is the product of poor engineering.
The reasons for the poor engineering of the digital sign-up process are:
- Print design for a digital world: Print people designing and engineering for digital. There are too many print people touching digital (and not enough digital people touching print) in the news industry. Either change the people or outsource this process.
- Legacy systems not talking with each other: Obsessed with delivering a perfect “print + digital” sign-up experience, publishers can’t get their back-end databases to talk with each other efficiently enough – and that back-end difficulty is getting translated to the front-end.
This is especially true of print and the legacy components behind print, which are difficult to integrate into the sign-up process.
09 April 2013 · By Earl J. Wilkinson
How does a news publisher evaluate revenue opportunities?
Which pied piper do you follow?
When do you know to put your considerable financial resources behind one of them vs. experimenting with several?
When do you lead, and when do you follow?
Across 80+ countries – which defines the INMA network – it can often be difficult to find the signal amid the noise.
The signals can be found through a series of triggers as part of a bigger funnel.
Trigger 1: Technology and middle class
I don’t believe in the print vs. digital arguments on the basis of the platforms. I believe in them based on the audience the news brand serves:
- The market’s access to technology.
- The size and strength of the market’s middle class.
Technology adoption is an obvious point. If it can go digital, it will go digital. Markets that claim print’s dominance have not yet seen the impact of broadband, smartphones, and tablets.
Despite digital advances, history still shows that a growing, aspirational middle class reaches for print newspapers to climb the social ladder personally and professionally. Until the data proves otherwise, I will stick with this historical storyline.
Latin America and South Asia have relatively small (percentage) middle classes, though they are growing and South Asia is particularly aspirational. They have low penetration of broadband Internet, though low-end smart devices will soon change this.
By contrast, North America, Northern Europe, and the South Pacific have strong, mature, yet stagnant middle classes with a saturation of technology options.
For these reasons alone, Latin America and South Asia are print-centric markets for the foreseeable future, while their Western counterparts are digital-centric.
Yet the clear direction is more digital. “If” is not an option; “when” is the only option....[more]
20 December 2012 · By Earl J. Wilkinson
The exponential changes that technology will bring to how information is consumed in the next five years requires a relentless drive by news publishers today to diversify revenue streams and take advantage of the unique synergies of print and digital platforms.
By now, I hope you know this is the lead to the story in my recently released report, “News Media Outlook 2013: The Print + Digital Dynamic in Exponential Times.”
The report has gotten ferocious feedback — mostly positive, some questioning conclusions and tone. I’m happy with any reaction because it was a report designed to provoke.
What I want to leave you with as we conclude 2012 is something the news industry has had little of in recent years: hope....[more]