I recently responded to a question on LinkedIn that asked, “If you could start from scratch in creating a print or online product, what would you do?” I didn't think that much of the question until I saw the responders start knocking the print product with most indicating that online was certainly the way to go.
Now, I may have been born at night, but not last night. Does print have its challenges and are we fighting demographics that appear to be working against its future? Absolutely! Are we often slow with change and do we oftentimes cling to traditional methods in a world that ignores tradition? Without a doubt!
At the end of the day, we can knock print all we want, but the fact is that any industry in the United States that can sell 50 million of anything nearly everyday has a tad bit of life left in their old bones.
That said, many newspapers that are not willing to kick the well-established traditions to the curb where they belong will fail, and that day may be closer than many care to believe. Many in the industry still believe that if we just work harder and embrace what worked 20-30 years ago, we can reverse the trends. That is a fallacy that will drive us to our death.
Many still believe that our revenue will return so we need to maintain our current structure to be positioned to take advantage when that day arrives. Only problem: nothing indicates those days will return. In fact, overwhelming evidence screams the exact opposite. I could go on and on listing the traditional thought processes that are killing the industry, but I believe you get the point.
What to do? While their are no simple answers or solutions, the pathway really is pretty well lit. Much like a drunk with a drinking problem, in order to confront the issues we must look long and hard in the mirror and acknowledge the demons. Our industry needs to confront the truth, we need to embrace the changes that are converging upon us much like the perfect storm. What are those truths?
First, we have to understand and come to grips that our print audience will continue to decrease. Not due to lack of effort on our part but due to our aging readers. That doesn't mean we don't try and improve our methods and systems that produce and provide our print editions, but we recognize the habits and demographic trends that are very clear.
Secondly, we must understand that we are witnessing a fundamental shift in reader and consumer spending habits. We are becoming more frugal with our money which, in turn, will place additional pressure on advertisers. As this shift becomes more evident, advertisers will adjust their business models to the new reality.
Thirdly, for several reasons we must realize that our revenue declines are most likely permanent. We can't continue believing that classifieds might return, they might solidify, but the expectation that they will return is a fool's wish. This might also include the realization that legal revenue will be hard-pressed to maintain current levels due to local governments being more frugal with taxpayer dollars and thus going online.
While I could go on, these are a few basic truths that we must understand. Once we embrace those basic understandings, it becomes easier to make the changes and modifications we must make to transition our businesses into the next phase of our lives. The film industry realized that they produced pictures and memories in lieu of film, and this allowed them to think differently which ultimately allowed them to transition into other picture- and memory-producing venues.
We must realize that we produce news and memories and not necessarily printed newspapers. The faster we embrace that reality, the faster we will fully transition into other options and prosper.