Press today, gone tomorrow?

19 Sep 2012  |  Dean Wilson 

Dean Wilson, UK CEO and VP International at Active International, wonders how margins will be affected in the business plan of a 2020 publisher and how will those at the helm of traditional publishers migrating to an online iteration navigate their way to that far flung place?

Press is no stranger to attack. With growing column inches and online posts discussing the demise of the medium, the actions of those in the Murdoch empire only added further ammunition to an industry in flux.

Over the last decade both readership and circulation of traditional formats has continued to fall, up to 50% in some cases, and each week ten independent newsagents go out of business.

How we buy, how often and whether this involves payment are important questions in saving, and then shaping and future proofing the industry. The fight for share will only continue to erode the industry, what will save it is a holistic endeavour to improve and increase the share of the medium within the overall media mix.

Press may be in a period of flux and transition, but the tangibility and affinity consumers feel for their favoured papers and magazines is not in question. Loyalties, empathies, prejudices and passions; these are all still very valid adjectives to describe our relationship with newspapers and magazines.

In a highly symbolic move, the Newspaper Marketing Agency has rebranded to Newsworks, literally shredding its traditional press and paper limitations. The future success of the medium lies in its ability to deliver compelling content on relevant platforms, wrapped up with transparency and accountability.

The recent ABC figures do not tell the whole story with many brands having a far bigger footprint than the numbers indicate. 70% of adults read a newspaper every week and on average pick it up three times a day for around 35 minutes, stretching to just over an hour at weekends.

In just 12 months, use and readership of tablets and e-readers has doubled. 44% of tablet users read newspaper content on a digital device with magazines slightly behind at 27%.

The number of reported digital sales edition numbers have quadrupled year on year from 16 to 60. The biggest error the medium has made is not anticipating the rate of adoption of new consumption behaviours and ways of engaging, reminiscent of the music industry's reaction to digest downloads.

Understanding audiences and behaviours, combining this with sound commercial practice is the equation for sustainability and future success. Despite increasing competition for our media time, Women's Health launched in early 2012 with a very admirable 100,000 circulation and September sees Cyclist from the Dennis stable, and Simple Things from Future.

Challenging economic times mean staycations are no longer an emerging trend but a way to holiday, and upcycling is as common as replacing. Understanding the zeitgeist has seen Easy Living achieving both period on period and year on year increases, and Private Eye and The Week increase copies by 20,000 and 8,000 respectively.

There is no question that digital plays a role. The Financial Times has seen its digital subscriptions increase to nearly 302,000, surpassing its print subscriptions of 298,000. While a cost of £295 per year is clearly driven by company payments, it does demonstrate our changing consumer behaviours.

In the first year of its five year "digital transformation strategy", Guardian News and Media is cutting 100 of its 650 editorial roles in a £7 million cost reduction - clearly committing to a multi-platform approach.

T3's first published ABC digital numbers totalled 17,682 - a robust compliment to its 49,006 for its print title. Digital innovation presents a huge opportunity for both media owners and advertisers - the key challenge lies in the numbers, both in terms of volume and economics.

Consumer understanding and relevance are two of the reasons free publications are giving the paid-for titles a run for their money. Metro, City AM and Evening Standard distribute over 1.6 million copies daily and are a very visible part of daily travel habits. Enjoying success during the Olympics, it is likely we will soon see an evening tablet Metro edition aligning with the way we read at different times of the day.

Sport and Shortlist are in poll position in their category, and Stylist is maintaining a top three position in the women's lifestyle market.  After 44 years as a paid for publication, Time Out is taking the bold and ambitious move to ditch its cover price of £3.25 and launch as a free title, increasing its circulation sixfold to 300,000, complementing its four million unique monthly users - something which has sent free listings magazine Scout scuttling away from print publication.

The future undoubtedly lies in executing multiplatform - delivering a commercial digital proposition and based on consumer insights. Auto Trader may have announced that it won't be print by 2014 but this is not and should not be for everyone.

With significant increases in smartphone and tablet ownership (Android 7, Kindle Fire, iPad Mini), we will continue to see an increase in mobile-optimised sites and publishers building tablet editions. These are vital brand extensions engaging loyal consumers with fresh and innovative content on the platform that works for them in their specific environment.

Only last week the UK News International CEO, Tom Mockridge, announced that between October 2012 and March 2013, the company will roll out a new advertising model "breaking down barriers between print and digital". The service will automatically convert paper advertising content into a static digital iteration to appear in the online version across a variety of tablets. Is this the first major move and investment to a truly integrated approach to cross-platform advertising?

Underlying of all this change is the imperative to discover what the business model for news platforms will look like in five or even ten years from now. How is the reduction or even loss of cover price online mitigated by the savings on the costs of paper, printing and distribution?

Can online targeted CPM's driven by data, captured by publishers through registration and loyalty schemes, drive sufficient advertising price premiums to offset the fact that NRS assumes ads in a newspaper are seen by a person reading for two minutes or more, compared to online measurement that is at page level rather than site?

The real crux of the matter; how will margins be affected in the business plan of a 2020 publisher and how will those at the helm of traditional publishers migrating to an online iteration navigate their way to that far flung place? The waters will be turbulent and conditions unpredictable. Dropping anchor is not an option.

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