Is this “opportunity knocks” or an issue akin to the old question “nature versus nurture?” I do think it is a question worth thinking about. A couple comments came my way which made me think once again about what newspapers have on offer, and to offer.

The first comment was a quote from some research findings that indicated “miserably low levels of readership of local online news content;” strange and disappointing when newspapers current mantra is to focus on the “hyper-local” approach. Another said that consumer’s key interests for local mobile information are weather, business data, local news, traffic and public transportation information. Quite contrary. At the same time we hear the ongoing chorus of the value to consumers of their new ability to self-curate their news content by selecting only topics of interest to them.

So, who is publishing the newspaper and what is it that readers want? Do newspapers provide the experience or do readers create it from a variety of facts and editorial provided by newspapers?

I have always wondered about the future success of the latter option as newspapers, for me, are all about the serendipitous pleasure of leafing through the pages and reading all the news and events that I expect and want as well as the pleasure and value of coming across the unexpected; the items that pique my interest only upon stumbling upon them. What if I told my local newspaper not to include in “my paper” science stories — would I miss all the content around earthquakes?

Each week, across all Canadian markets, 70% of readers read “only” a printed product, and yes, they tend to be older than “digital only” readers. But only 6% of readers in the average week read “only” online. Just over 20% migrate between the two channels over the week. The shift to “digital only” is stubbornly slow. Interestingly, it is the free dailies, which tend to attract younger mobile adults, which have the highest “print only” readership; about 98%.

Our most recent data tells us that it is on a daily basis that readers choose between print and digital, not really a surprise I think. In Toronto on the average weekday

  • 76% of readers “only read” a printed newspaper,
  • 11% “only read” a Web site version,
  • 13% read both.

By the end of the week migration has occurred and

  • 67% “only read” print,
  • 7% “only read” Web sites,
  • 26% have now read both.

It is the availability and complementary nature of the two options that attracts audiences. The brand is built on the full audience, not the channels by themselves.

The high levels of “print only” readership by all age groups demonstrates the value of the printed product. So, is it the platform for delivery that is important? Is it the content? Or is it how the content is delivered?

Breaking news aside... the strength of newspapers is the editor’s ability to aggregate and cull all the noise of the world’s events into a neat package for the reader. And I believe most readers do not have the time or interest to separate the wheat from the chaff; they expect their news brand(s) to perform that task for them.

We conducted some qualitative research a few years ago and readers told us that the number one reason for choosing to read a newspaper was “consistent layout.” A very unexpected outcome! How does this apply to the online and Web editions? I think this is one of the reasons many readers, particularly those readers who have grown up with printed editions, appear less committed to digital newspapers. Where does it begin? What path do I follow to get the news that is relevant and important to me? It can be a bit of a grab bag.

So, I think opportunity is knocking, in the form of tablets. Tablets are selling well, but we need to pay attention to who is buying them not how many are being sold. They tend to be used by the same people who have smart phones; upscale, tech savvy professionals…they are not ubiquitous, yet. Their number will grow and become everyday objects. As this growth takes place newspapers are experimenting, demonstrating that they will be ready to make their products suitable for the device and consumer’s needs.

Apps can be anything, we need to continue to query readers and understand what they are looking for. But my money will be on a hybrid newspaper: a curated product available each morning delivered to the tablet and read throughout the day, a “section” edited and updated during the day for breaking news, and maybe an extra “section” for specific stories/information — local or otherwise — that culls all the individual’s specific requests. All this will be available in a visual and user friendly format that will knock our readers’ socks off!