How long will Newspapers last? According to Futurenet – not long. Their fascinating graphic plots that for most of us, ten years is all we can look forward to. They even explain why. Ten years ago we were in the wake of the dot com bubble bursting. There were no smart phones, no tablets, little broadband and a wave of hope that all the web hype was just that -hype. We now know that isn’t true, and if Futurenet are to be believed, these are the Swan Song years of the print newspaper. Soon newspapers in print will only exist in your attic -stacked next to the vinyl record collection and the Soda Stream.
The newspaper industry seems to be in denial about the extent of the crisis it faces. It is in danger of looking like Michael Fish the night before the big storm in 1989. Whilst News International hopes that its managerial blindness to hacking and other immoral practices, will see off the worst of the Hackgate controversy, Trinity Mirror, whose results are published today, has launched a review into it’s own practices. Oddly, and despite the furore around what Piers Morgan may or may not have known about the hacking of Heather Mills phone, there is to be no root and branch investigation into the past. It is claimed that the Heather Mills voice mail was received anonymously. Even if true, I am not sure this resolves the matter. Unless the source was Heather Mills herself, which seems improbable, then the material must have been secured illegally – and Trinity Mirror must have known that. What is the moral difference?
Intellectually this is the same stonewall approach used by News International, for several years. But now the lone rogue reporter defence has been exposed for what it was – forlorn hope that if News International covered their eyes with their hands, when they eventually looked between their fingers the monstrous allegations will have vanished. Let’s hope that Trinity Mirror is not making the same mistake.
Meanwhile The Star, bastion of the fourth estate, is using the cynical tag line “The paper you can trust,” in it’s television advertising. All the tabloids have increased print orders and launched marketing campaigns to capitalise on the closure of The News of the World. The management effort being brought to bear on milking every last drop of commercial benefit from the Hackgate crisis appears to dwarf management concern about their own organisations possible culpability for producing unethical journalism.
Newspaper management teams may judge that their readers will in the end just shrug their shoulders and carry on buying the news, tainted with Hackgate or not. Remember the faux wailing and gnashing of teeth over the behaviour of some parts of the press after the death of Princess Diana? The press has learned that the public moral outrage over the hacking of a dead girls phone will also pass with time.
Meanwhile the economics of newspaper publishing are brought home in sharp relief this as Trinity Mirror updates it’s results. The expected uplift in sales of the Sunday Mirror will do little to disguise the full extent of the challenge facing Sly Bailey, the Trinity Mirror CEO. The share price has dropped by two thirds in the last year. The serial cost cutting that has been the consequence of dwindling revenues has to an extent shored up the profits but it has not disguised the fundamental weakness of the business. Like every other newspaper group in the uk there is no discernible strategy for getting from here to somewhere where shareholder value is increasing.
When readers are losing faith in the integrity of what newspapers do, and shareholders are losing faith in the future of newspapers, when the economy is teetering on the edge of a double dip recession, when technology change is challenging the very essence of how newspapers do business, the conditions for a perfect storm are arising.
The response to this storm will require a new round of fresh thinking. I can’t wait to see what a digital guy makes of it all. What on earth will Ashley Highfield do with Johnston Press?
I was reviewing some magazine properties the other day. I was surprised to see that the headline circulation of one of the titles was several times bigger than I expected it to be.
After looking up the titles latest ABC certificate I realised that the bulk of the distribution, some 75% of the total was ascribed to digital editions. In the modern world the reach of magazine titles is the sum of the print circulation plus digital editions plus web traffic, plus readers of electronic newsletters plus web traffic plus downloaders of apps.
As a result the potential reach of magazine brands is increasing- which sounds like good news. The problem is that we and therefore our advertisers have no way of knowing what any of this might mean.
Is a web reader worth more or less than the controlled circulation recipient of a print magazine? Is a recipient of a digital page turner edition the same as a print reader, and how do either of them compare with the user of an app? Is a newsletter reader just the duplicate of a web reader?
When we sell advertisements in a print magazine we make an implicit assumption that every reader consumes every page equally. When we sell web advertising we might talk about unique users but advertisers are measuring what they by on a page impression count or even a click through. Should advertisers be buying the circulation of digital editions on the basis of the number of copies sent or the open rate? If ads in an app deliver a better branding result than web display ads how can that be measured? If an app ad allows “in app browsing” will media buyers insist on pricing app ads on a CTR basis?
The audit bodies, the ABC and the BPA have some work to do to remain relevant in a multiple platform world. The future development of media advertising in a multiple platform world depends upon there being an industry accepted currency for how audience is measured. At the moment, as my questions illustrate there is no such consensus.
Would it be beyond the ken of the audit bodies to construct an algorithm which aggregated audience from different platforms and resolved a single measure of reach for a media brand? It would be controversial, as are all audience measurement systems, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t necessary.
The audit bodies may well argue that such a project is for the media owners to derive and drive. With so many vested interests that is unlikely to happen. Either the ABC or the BPA have an opportunity to take a lead here. Although their paymasters are the media owners, their relevance in the multi platform world depends upon the currency they offer being valued by the media buyers. They should rise to the challenge before it is too late lest they wither as so many of the print magazines they used to audit have done before them.