The digital environment has changed the way readers interact with publications. And that, in turn, changes the way publishers create and distribute content.
“There are a limited number of winners who are going to find the way ahead, so the question we should ask is: What are the ways you can win? It’s a hard question to ask but an important one,” according to Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, director, Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, University of Oxford.
Nielsen spoke in the final day of INMA’s World Congress of News Media, using examples from the UK’s 2019 general election to show the uneven distribution of where consumers spend their time online.
During the election cycle, just 3% of users’ time online was spent engaging with news channels, even though the election was a rather significant one. And, of that time spent reading news online, 67% of it was spent engaging with the top five news media brands, while all local brands combined garnered just 10% of reader engagement.
“These numbers are quite staggering,” Nielsen said. “Comscore reports that there are more than 1,000 entities in the UK that are registered as news providers. If the five biggest publishers account for two-thirds of all the attention, there is a long tail — but it’s a very thin tail.”
Those numbers should be viewed in light of the big picture, taking into consideration all the time spent online — not just with news providers. Then, he said, “the top five news brands account for about 2% online and all news providers in the UK are about .3% of the time spent online.”
Comparatively, during that same time, Google platforms accounted for 22% of the audience’s time online, while Facebook occupied 14% of the time.
“Both of those are far, far larger than the news industry.”
It raises the question as to whether such a thing as “mass media” still exists, Nielsen said, or whether “the distributions I’ve shown of attention and revealed preferences suggest there really are only niche media left in terms of the news media — or perhaps niche media who think they are mass media.”
What that means going forward, Nielsen said, is that news media companies need to look to the future and adopt a forward-looking strategy.
“The challenges are the same, whether one is running a legacy title or an ad-based or subscription-based one,” he said. “Given this unforgiving competition for attention, advertising, and consumer spending, there increasingly are no prizes for runners-up. We should admire and be inspired by those who are doing it, whether they are legacy titles … digital-born titles … or whether they are ad-based or subscription-based.”
At the same time, publishers should recognise that a limited number of winners will find the way to succeed. Knowing that, Nielsen said, there is really only one thing that matters: “And that is to figure out the question, ‘How can you be the best at what you do and for those you do it for?’”