Let me be the first to say, I am on board with an aggressive digital mindset. I have long said that the traditional print product may roll off the presses for the final time as the last baby boomer takes his or her last dying breath. Digital is, no doubt, the future — but let us deal with the now in a responsible way.
Far too many newspapers have gutted their traditional products very deeply in a quest to free up money for their digital escapades. Far too many newspapers have reduced their traditional efforts to the bare bones under the economic pressures that only seem to be mounting, not declining. It is my fear we are actually increasing the speed of our print products’ demise by writing them off far too early. It is safe to say that any product that sells nearly 50 million of anything nearly every day still remains quite a force.
I have the opportunity to chat with fellow publishers and other industry executives nearly every day. Many strongly believe they have had the tools they need to compete ripped from their clutches; they’re fighting for survival with only a fraction of the resources they need to wage a respectable fight.
I shared a statistic last month (“Newsmedia industry must innovate in the name of customer retention”) that was gathered from interviews with several hundred upper-level executives throughout the country. The results should be memorised by every newspaper media executive that has any bottom-line responsibility.
For every 5% of your current business you can retain, which you otherwise would have lost, you can increase or grow your bottom line 100%. That should offer solid hope to all those executives who face this struggle for readers and advertisers.
Yes, we absolutely need to figure out the digital frontier. We have no choice. Yes, we need to figure out ways to free up those precious dollars to devote to apps, mobile, online, and digital R&D. Yes, we must play in the digital playground in an aggressive and tactical way. That playground is certainly in our future.
But let us not lose sight of what still drives our industry, albeit at a reduced rate of speed. Let’s not gut the one machine that still provides the funds that will ultimately allow us to cross the great divide between the traditional print product and the innovative future. Just as it’s difficult to understand a good friend dying before his time, it’s difficult to arrive in the future before we have the wherewithal to survive there.
Circulation still drives this ship, whether we acknowledge that or not. We can talk of digital first all we wish, but we’ll never truly see it if we don’t devote the appropriate resources to circulation first. It isn’t an either-or sum game; it is through both, and only both, that we have hope. Let’s not jeopardise the future of “digital first” by treating “circulation last.”