Mobile faces a product problem

By Chuck Blevins

Cox Media Group Newspapers

Atlanta, Georgia, USA


Over the past year, most of the industry articles and opinions about mobile that I’ve read (and posted) are attempts to keep up with digital distribution changes. We’re reacting to changes in the systems (apps, Webs, bots, services, and so on) to chase after splinters of our former markets, and trying to vacuum up new conversions.

Unfortunately, news media’s core problem isn’t digital distribution.

It remains a product problem.

Media companies need to create products that meet user needs.
Media companies need to create products that meet user needs.

I’ve written about this issue before: news media companies re-make all platforms in their conceptually print image (television and radio do the same thing). The specific issue is we think we’re chasing a marker that has moved to new distribution points, and everything will be fixed if we can keep up and reach them.

Yes, the market moved to new distribution points, but it fundamentally changed in the process.

Understand this: Print is not dead. Print, though, is its own separate product. For example, when I spoke to readers of our digital replica product about their thoughts, they emphasised that all the things that made them read the printed product were the reasons why they chose the e-Paper. For all intents and purposes, it was the print newspaper.

We learned that throwing in all sorts of digital magic and features would be counterproductive. They didn’t care about our other digital products or their benefits — those products didn’t solve the problem the readers had. They just wanted the newspaper. So, that product gets managed like the printed product, and we focus on our other digital products differently.

Currently, many news sites aren’t much different than the Web portals of the early ‘90s. Since the printed newspaper was effectively the analog version of a mass-content portal, it’s easy to see why things evolved as they did. However, continuing issues with monetisation and revenue indicate this still isn’t a good product/market fit as an industry.

For most, revenue is a volume issue and sustained growth is required (and arguably this election cycle also indicated how the market values the industry). Commodity plays on platforms with low barriers to entry, and lots of competitors is just plain hard.

Competition will only increase; costs can only be streamlined so much. (Plus, there are other areas of journalism, like investigative journalism, which don’t lend themselves to commoditisation.)

Given the pause in disruptive technologies and platforms, 2017 is a good time to step back and look at your product portfolio and commit to product thinking. As an industry, we need to recommit to solving news product problems for consumers, and stop working to find consumers for our pre-existing solutions — on mobile and elsewhere.

About Chuck Blevins

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