The psychology of conforming comfort


We humans are very social indeed. We take comfort in conformity and following the herd. This is surely true in the stock market, but maybe even more true in the newspaper industry. When the newspaper gods go left, the herd is sure to follow. When they veer to the right, the sheep follow right and do so with vigour. It really doesn’t matter where the path leads; it will be well worn by an industry well trained to follow the crowd regardless of the long-term financial impact.

But just as maverick risk taking investors have not only tamed the stock market with the strategy of investing opposite the herd leading to massive profits; there are newspaper companies blazing their own path despite the herd yelling, “No, this way!”

Let me be the first to say I don’t have the all the answers — I may not even have any of the answers — but that doesn’t stop me from thinking out loud. I have already written on the need to devote additional attention and effort to circulation through programmes that don’t have to cost additional dollars. Today those circulation numbers are still vital or essential to our short-term survival. But that aside, newspapers have to deal with and prepare for the tough road that lays ahead, one that will rock the very foundation we stand on today.

When I chat with fellow publishers, owners and consultants, I get the same answers to these basic questions:

  1. What will be the status of our legal advertising in three to five years?

  2. What will be the status of our pre-print advertising in three to five years?

  3. With the many new and emerging products, do we see our current array of print products doing better or worse in three to five years?

  4. When will the housing and/or unemployment improve enough to move the needle?

I have yet to hear someone tell me the economy will be much better (I wouldn’t believe them if they did say that). I have yet to have anyone tell me that legal advertising will be more than a shell of itself. Most hold out little hope for a print rebound and I have yet to hear that pre-prints will be anything close to what we have now. Some indicate we will be lucky to have 50%-60% of what we have now — some say that is a pipe dream.

Which begs the million-dollar question: if that is the case, where does that leave your company under those conditions? I suspect it leaves most companies out of business and adding to the latest unemployment figures.

This is where I see a strange disconnect. In most industries, if we knew that in a few years our business model will be wiped out, we would be moving at a frantic pace to assure we were developing the business model that can survive those deteriorating conditions. Waiting for the wave to hit only means we are being lead like the herd to the slaughter.

Sometimes I believe I am painting this picture too often, but I get the sense the industry as a whole really doesn’t connect what we know is coming with actions appropriate for such a scenario. I applaud those truly taking a digital first mindset, not that they are or should be neglecting the current cash cow. But it appears they understand that like for the cows in Texas, the feed and water is growing scarce. They are attempting to prepare for what is inevitable based on our own thoughts and answers to our own basic questions.

Our challenge is to stop following the herd and start following our instincts. They are appropriately telling us to venture off the reservation and begin to blaze a new course of action for each of our companies. Let’s get blazing!

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