One of the biggest topics at the INMA World Congress of News Media in Washington, D.C., was the continuing transformation of legacy print publishers in the digital age.

David Rogers, digital expert, author, and faculty director at Columbia Business School, spoke to INMA about the biggest challenges traditional news media companies face in the age of the digital consumer.

Any organisation that existed before the digital era faces one common, major challenge, Rogers said: “How do you rethink your business? How do you understand how your industry is changing and think about where are you going to fit into that new future?”

This means thinking differently about your customer relationships, competition, data, how you manage innovation, and your value as a company.

Rogers invited media companies to ask themselves: “Why do you exist, and what are the needs you are going to fulfill for those customers in the future?” 

Media companies he sees that are getting traction in this digital transformation are those that are building on the direct relationships with their customers.

“It’s often not so much mass markets — that’s really not where the opportunity is — it’s about niches or series of niches,” Rogers said. “But getting these specific types of people and building that direct relationship — really figuring out what matters most to them — and making sure you are indispensable in their lives.”

Only then can your business model grow, Rogers said.

He noted that media companies are in the business of creating content, not just connecting people to it or aggregating it like social platforms and aggregators. The best advice Rogers has for news media companies to succeed in the digital age is to think about how to build a relationship with its customers in a way that the company is earning money from that relationship.

“Thinking about what are the different ways you can monetise, getting out there and experimenting, whether it’s branded boxes, live events, opportunities to meet with your reporters,” Rogers said. “Looking at lots of different ways and continuing to experiment with ways you’re going to monetise that relationship directly and not rely on someone else’s advertising.”

While that advertising may be a company’s biggest source of revenue right now and may be a source of revenue in the future, Rogers said it absolutely is not going to be the dominant part of the business model in the future.