Satisfying Audiences Blog

Satisfying Audiences

Take the trends we know to be true, then let them play out until your doors close

04 February 2013 · By John Newby

As an industry, we need to throw out the straw man, hypothetical hopes, and accept our position amid economic and demographic shifts. Once we do that, we can change the rules of the game and start implementing a winning strategy.

As news media companies continue to cope with unfavourable and less than desirable trend lines, I have to wonder when logical thinking might actually rear its long forgotten head.

I am not a pessimist by any means. Quite the contrary. I believe once we view the landscape through a realistic lens, we have a bright, albeit vastly different, future.

But I fear we as an industry are ignoring logical approaches to business and incorporating far too many straw men or hypothetical excuses to make the hard decisions.

Let’s review a few logical facts:

  • Ad revenue in nearly ALL categories has been trending down for many years, to the tune of half of the industry’s revenues in less than a decade.

  • Print numbers by and large have been trending down. (Less in community newspapers than in metros for sure.)

  • Readers’ habits are undeniably changing toward online, smartphones, and tablets.

None of those statements are earth-shattering; none of them can be disputed without risk of appearing insane. But let’s take a look at them in a factual way and then address the hypothetical straw man approach, as well.

Ad revenue. While the numbers certainly vary by market, it is probably safe to say that most newspapers fall in the loss of traditional revenue plan of 3% to 6% per year. That also falls in within the historic rate over the past few years, as well. Simply project that 3% to 6% loss out over five to 10 years to determine when you close your doors.

Print numbers and revenue. Traditional audience is shrinking by the same percentage per year. Yes, there are some holding their own for now, and this timeline may vary by market. But, once again, project out that 3% to 6% loss over five to 10 years to determine your tipping point with the current traditional business model.

Reader habits. I like to view reader habits in two categories: baby boomers or above and then all the rest. I have long said that once the baby boomers lose their eyesight, traditional newspapers are done. We are seeing this pattern emerge even today.

However, here is another fact that actually works in our favour: We can increase prices on this group over the near future to help offset some of the other declines to effectively gain some additional time to alter our direction and battle plans.

Now we roll out the straw man suite of rationale:

The hope the economy will turn around! This goes against nearly every piece of economic data and theory one can muster. In fact, many will say we are in about as good an economy right now as we can expect for the next decade.

That argument is simply a fantasy that helps one to avoid making the tough decisions. Hope makes for a very poor business plan.

We need better people to work smarter! This is both true and false. If this is a people and work ethic issue, the entire industry is full of dumb and lazy people. I would argue exactly the opposite. We have very bright and hard-working people who need better direction.

The fact that we have smart, hard-working people and the tide is still moving in a less than desirable direction tells me we are facing demographic or economic shifts that all the hard work and smart people won’t be able to overcome without altering our path.

People still like the newspaper in their hands! The fact of the matter is those over the age of 50 make this statement partially true. Our real issue is that we are mostly led by a pack of leaders over 50 who fail to understand this belief is totally false for other generations as a whole.

To create real change, we must accept our role in the food chain. As long as we cling to these hypothetical arguments and rationale, we are unable to facilitate true change. Consider an alcoholic: until they accept their state, they can’t accept the changes needed to become clean.

As an industry, we need to throw out the straw-man, hypothetical hopes and accept our position. Once we do that, we can change the rules of the game and start on the path to implementing a winning strategy.


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The Satisfying Audiences Blog aims to reflect print and digital content not just across platforms but extending into consumer events, non-news-related subscriptions and other audience vehicles for newsmedia companies. This blog written by INMA members is dedicated to identifying the emerging linkages between content, audiences, and platforms. The blog is an initiative by the INMA North America Division Board of Directors.


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