Earl interview with De Morgen, including the inexplicable posed photo with the funny printers' hat
Earl interview with De Morgen, including the inexplicable posed photo with the funny printers' hat

I made a presentation today to INMA members in Belgium. During questions and answers at De Persgroep, the most intense question involved platform strategy.

Here was the question. The member’s newspaper is investing significant time and energy into multi-platform development and aggregating audience across those platforms. A competitor is investing almost all their energy in maximising the print newspaper platform. And the competitor’s strategy, for now, appears to be winning. How do you reconcile the leap of faith necessary to expand your audience without a business model to support that strategy?

Deep question.

From what I could deduce, the question danced around the competitive situation in Belgium where the two main groups – Corelio and De Persgroep – have quality dailies, popular dailies, and other assets. While Corelio has pushed hard to expand audience, De Persgroep only three years ago launched a web site for its popular daily, Het Laatse Niews – and it’s been a big success. De Persgroep’s strategy is to invest in areas that have near-immediate return-on-investment, while Corelio’s strategy appears more aggressive with digital.

Of course, there is no one correct answer. One involves a conservative approach that has a higher likelihood of low-end success. The other involves a progressive approach that has a lower likelihood of high-end success. Yet the two approaches are a microcosm of what’s happening on the world stage.

There really are two strategic approaches emerging, both with their own risks. The first strategy suggests lock down your content and get readers to pay through micro-payments – something that, in reality, doesn’t quite exist today. The second strategy suggests pull all energies into expanding audience across as many platforms and find readers where they’re living today – and the business model will eventually catch up to the audience.

My instinct is audience-first is mostly correct, yet I can show you many examples from the 1990s and early 2000s suggesting newspapers that lagged behind in internet development allowed first-movers to make the mistakes in capital investment and strategy.

This question is becoming the burning issue among senior managements.