New Newspaper Numbers; New Opportunities

We’re starting to reach the level of “piling on” when it comes to the future of newspapers. Newspapers aren’t going away; they are changing. And as they become digital publishing entities, smart executives are identifying the new opportunities rather than the new problems.

This might seem like a crazy idea during a week in which yet another somewhat gloomy newspaper forecast was released. This one came from stock analyst FBR & Co.’s William Bird. His numbers show that a third of young readers don’t read print papers, and are more and more flocking to online news outlets. Over the next year, print newspaper usage is expected to decline a net 5 percent, his survey numbers say. A total of 11 percent of respondents say they plan to use print newspapers less. This was exactly offset by the percentage of respondents who say they plan to consume online newspapers more (11 percent).

Bird finds the migration to have “structural pressure” on newspaper companies. I couldn’t agree more. I also think most newspapers are responding to the challenge. I’m not being Pollyanna here. It’s a tough business. But I see three positive developments to those structural issues. And structural issues, as we all know, is another word for money.

  1. Direct Sales: One of the underrated challenges to newspapers is real-time bidding (RTB), programmatic buying, and a lack of direct sales contacts. It has been devastating to some of the bigger companies (The New York Times, Wall Street Journal). Simply put: Brands can buy an audience at a cheaper rate than they are buying the premium content environment. And newspapers have to at least respect the network ad buys that afford them a revenue stream. I see newspapers leaning toward innovating mobile, social, and content technology to create new ad units and forge direct relationships. New technology cannot be served by a program. This is where newspapers need to make the most progress in the digital migration.
  2. Data: The readers of the Chicago Sun Times have a point of view. They represent a community. Networks can’t say that. In order for newspapers to make the digital migration they need to own audience data. If they can tap into the community aspects of their audience they can do that. Social quizzes, contests, and moderated comments will encourage that.
  3. Emphasizing the “Content” in Content Marketing: It’s not happening yet, but I see the stirrings of a new blend of Big Data and content. Content for newspapers needs to be edgy, current, and compelling. But it also needs to be engaging and resonant, especially if that much content is needed to fill the mission of a minute-to-minute publication. Matching content with audience needs and future interests is the right move.

It’s easy enough to find more data about the decline of print newspapers. I think we might be past the point of that data being useful. Better to embrace the future, which is in digital publishing.

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