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Embrace the bold and diminish inch-by-inch change

14 April 2014 · By Earl J. Wilkinson

A decade ago, newspapers jumped on the print format change bandwagon with reckless abandon.

With an infusion of gutsy moves by The Independent and The Times in the United Kingdom to publish tabloid-sized editions of their famous broadsheets, a momentary rift in an otherwise conservative hide-bound industry opened up.

For a brief moment in 2004, newspaper publishers were open to new possibilities of packaging and connecting with readers because the tectonic plates of the competitive United Kingdom print industry unexpectedly shifted.

London became Mecca for newspaper executives from Europe, North America, Latin America, Asia, and the South Pacific. I recall former U.S. newspaper chain Knight Ridder setting up an anthropological outpost near a London newsstand as it watched British consumers choose between broadsheet and tabloid Independents and the Times.

After weeks of study, Knight Ridder did little, even as consumers chose tabloids by two-thirds, and The Independent and The Times switched to tabloid format.

With the hindsight of 10 years, what did we learn?

The big lessons were these:

  • Consumers prefer more compact formats: functionality, modernity, and the like.

  • A change in format can provide a temporary lift (often at the expense of a flat-footed competitor), but circulation trends tend to return to former patterns after a year or so.

  • There are few, if any, new readers gained in a market as a result of one publication changing format.

  • To preserve revenue, advertising formats must be shifted from the inch/centimeter/millimeter to proportional page measures before the format change. Otherwise, marketers will argue an advertisement half the size should be half the price.

  • All of this change masks, after many case studies, the best excuse for broadsheet to tabloid or Berliner format change: It’s an attention-getting move with consumers that galvanises the publishing house. Format change succeeded best when it was the face of broader changes.

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The 3 keys to a multi-media transformation storyline

31 March 2014 · By Earl J. Wilkinson

As media companies transition from “best practices” to “storylines of transformation” as the currency to communicate value to stakeholders, a wild inconsistency is emerging that makes the news industry susceptible to misreading.

From the small local U.S. newspaper consolidating its physical space by 50% to the regional daily replacing real plants with fake plants to save money to the multi-media behemoth reviewing stretch limousine usage by its army of editors to the Indian company diversifying revenue from the seed of a news brand, “transformation” has many faces.

My visits to media companies in recent months culminated in a recent visit to the Middle East, where I was confronted by the most direct of questions: How do you systematically attack transformation as a business strategy?

The question crossed a few lines for me. I’m not a consultant. I am an orchestrator and synthesiser of the global “INMA conversation,” a constant chatter among our nearly 7,000 members. My answers usually involve pointing to who is doing what best.

Yet to put a toe across that line, I would put forward the following.

Print to multi-media transformation is about three things:

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How publishers can embrace digital natives and digital immigrants

10 February 2014 · By Earl J. Wilkinson

I attended a publisher conference in recent weeks where the terms “digital native” and “digital immigrant” were liberally tossed around:

  • Digital native: Roughly, if you are 35 years old or younger in the United States, you likely are a “digital native.” You live and breathe all things digital. Gadgets jazz you. Social media experimentation is the norm. The world of 1’s and 0’s is a comfortable old shoe because you’ve known nothing else. Print is a mind-stumping peculiarity to you.

  • Digital immigrant: If you are older than 35 in the United States, you are a “digital immigrant.” While the world tilts digital, you spend much of your time un-learning your print habits (even as you secretly prefer them). You don’t want to look old. You understand social media, smartphones, tablets, and wearable devices like you understand that Mars and Venus are the next planets to us – you read it somewhere.

And, in a state of fluidity, digital immigrants are ferociously trying to lose their accents.

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10 big ideas that will guide news publishers in 2014

13 January 2014 · By Earl J. Wilkinson

The growth path for news publishers in 2014 boils down to diversifying revenue streams beyond “print + digital,” developing a transformation storyline, nurturing the “new” news brand, and building foundations that will pay off in outlying years.

Drawing these conclusions for INMA’s “News Media Outlook 2014: Navigating the Minefield” report released last month, I relaxed comfortably over the holidays knowing media companies have become accustomed to the “new normal” of getting out the next edition and constantly reinventing their business models.

Now that the holidays are over and I prepare for a global Webinar on the report for INMA members, I am looking back at the Outlook report with fresh eyes.

Here are 10 thoughts on the report that stand out for me:

  1. Digital replacing print: Digital revenue will not replace print revenue. Filling the print advertising hole will be about “print + digital + other things.”

  2. New digital business models: People keep writing the obituary of the print business model. Yet here we are, entering 2014, and the digital business model for publishers is dead or dying, and we are reinventing that on the fly.

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How Trome’s ladder brand strategy made it the world’s largest Spanish-language newspaper

14 October 2013 · By Earl J. Wilkinson

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.

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News publishers redefine innovation through investments in people, culture

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.
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Since water doesn’t flow uphill in India, print to multi-media will require unique bridge

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.

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Repositioning from sustainable advantage to transient advantage is a big leap for publishers

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:

  1. The purpose of corporate strategy today is to attain a sustainable competitive advantage.

  2. Sustainable competitive advantage is eroding due to “volatile” and “uncertain” environments.

  3. 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.

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Why Washington Post sale matters to you: scale and innovation

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.”
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Publishers should jump on content marketing bandwagon now

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.

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About Earl

Earl J. Wilkinson is executive director and CEO of INMA. In his interactions with INMA members worldwide, Earl has one of the broadest views of newspapers of anyone serving our industry today. He is a trendspotter and a leading advocate for cultural change, transformation, and innovation. This blog represents his unique view of the emerging global news media industry.

Biography | INMA profile



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