The newspaper bellwether is consumer demand


AAs newspaper professionals, we're constantly looking for a bellwether. We're looking for a map to the future. And, even more sought-after is a contradiction to the common belief that digital media will be the end of newspaper publishers.

I read a recent report from The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press which finds that consumer demand for news and information is healthy and strong. My interpretation of the research is that our future's bright if we follow consumer demand.

The positive message is “the average time Americans spend with the news on a given day is as high as it was in the mid-1990s, when audiences for traditional news sources were much larger.” In fact, “the net impact of digital platforms supplementing traditional sources is that Americans are spending more time with the news than was the case a decade ago.”

The recent explosion in tablet devices — most recently iPad, but soon Samsung and others — gives me reason to hope that all of the downloading and purchasing of news apps was an indication of involvement and enduring demand rather than a blip. The research corroborates my optimism and suggests that we are experiencing a shift in platform preference rather than a colossal decline in news demand.

To help chart the path, the next coordinate from the research is that “ the groups that are driving the increase in time spent with the news — particularly highly educated people — are most likely to use digital and traditional platforms.“ These digital news consumers are engaged and have the means to pay for quality content on multiple devices and platforms.

Many news organizations are meeting this consumer need well by offering print and digital bundles. But we need to quickly move beyond that. “Only about one-in-four (26%) Americans say they read a newspaper in print yesterday, down from 30% two years ago and 38% in 2006. Meanwhile, online newspaper readership continues to grow and is offsetting some of the overall decline in readership. This year, 17% of Americans say they read something on a newspaper's web site yesterday, up from 13% in 2008 and 9% in 2006.”

Paid content models, and the revenue on which we rely, can't be solely derived from print and digital bundle premiums. For a sustaining revenue model, digital content has to be a growing revenue stream in and of itself.

This revenue source will be a result of publishers providing access to news anytime and anywhere, leveraging consumer need for quality information and satisfying their dynamic device and platform preferences. According to the research, “more people say they mostly get news 'from time to time' rather than at 'regular times.' The percentage of so-called news grazers has increased nine points (from 48% to 57%) since 2006.”

We need to surround our readers with our content to meet the whims of the grazers.

Reader demand is clearly healthy. Paid content models are new and relatively flexible at this stage. The future needs to be built on converging these two ideas.

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