Smaller markets or print footprints: Which approach will win?


There is an old saying that goes, “Time will tell the tale.”

When we look at Warren Buffett purchasing community newspapers, many ask if he is on to something.

Then we watch as Advance Publications reduces their print footprint to three days a week, and some suggest that might well be the future.

Could it be that both are right in their respective markets and both might be a window into the industry’s near-term and even long-term future?

Buffett has gone into highly localised community markets, where the print product is still very much the king. Yes, most community markets still are seeing slight yearly reductions in their print footprint. But print still remains very vibrant in these markets, and their online presence is second to none.

While the circulation footprint remains somewhat intact in these community markets, I suspect the true threat there in the coming years will be the continued decline in the advertising dollars.

Even in these vibrant markets, if we pull legals from the mix, along with the national trends in classifieds and pre-prints, you have a pretty tough or challenged future.

That said, these community markets are still in the best position to meet those challenges and give themselves additional time to navigate what will become the new frontier in an industry facing massive change and upheaval on a daily basis.

In contrast to the Buffett approach, Advance Publications is, by and large, operating in medium to large markets that are certainly more challenged on all fronts: the sense of community that buoys the community markets is much less a factor; print is certainly declining at a much faster clip than that of the community markets; and the online competition can be very fierce.

Advance Publications simply said it was done with death by a thousand paper cuts and decided to take the future into it’s own hands. By reducing it’s print footprint, Advance has been able to prop up it’s bottom line and free up funds to pour into various innovative ventures.

It is important to understand that neither of these approaches are long-term guarantees of victory. In both cases, one need not be an actuary to understand the trends leading to a conclusion that is less than a victory.

However, it is my opinion that both these approaches are exactly the right approach for each organisation at this time in their respective markets.

Both have built into their business plan time to innovate and develop their strategies and approaches that will disrupt their markets, in lieu of the normal strategy we normally deploy as an industry of waiting to be disrupted.

Will these two approaches prove successful?

I believe it is very possible both approaches can lead to victory. Both must use the time that has been bought by their varied approaches and strategies to further innovate, test new systems, acclimate to their surroundings, and develop new products which expand their brands.

But, as with all things, will the time they bought be put to good use, or will they stop to rest and catch their breath, thus losing the valuable time they have been given?

Time will certainly tell the tale!

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