Today’s news environment has shifted due to technology advancement and Internet development just as commerce has, and publishing has. Not only has technology shifted the way news is produced: digital page layout has done away with paste up and thousands of talented past up specialists, digital printing has modernized the press and lowered the cost of producing in color ─ the grey lady got a dye job; but it has radically changed the way news is delivered.We pick up a paper on the train, but we also check the scores via our Blackberry. We read a headline, but we sit at our desk and the first thing we do is checkout The Drudge Report, or CNN, to see if anything important happened after the final edition hit the news stands. Long gone are the days of the newsie screaming “Extra, Extra read all about it!” Have any of us every even seen and Extra Edition of a news publication? Maybe when the Red Sox finally won a World Series, but that was most likely pre-printed, before they actually won.
The news dissemination system has moved from a few outlets; television, radio and print catered to the masses to a multi-faceted delivery system directed at the individual. The user has more content to choose from, and greater means to make their choices. In the same way that Chris Anderson describes the “Long Tail” shift in commerce due to technology; the news consumer of today has more choice, more interaction and more opportunity to reach “niche” news or news specific to their tastes and opinions.
In addition to the advancements and efficiencies in production of news, and dissemination of news is the creation of entirely new revenue models for “news” publishing entities. The digital revolution has opened wide the opportunity flood gates for revenue.
Revenue from advertising has been radically altered from where it was just 20 years ago. Traditionally, the bulk of newspaper revenue came from advertising. Circulation was important, but circulation drove advertising rates, so you could give away a paper to get the numbers up, and thus demand more per column inch for advertising. Today, with Internet technology and online “editions,” or publication web sites there is much more advertising to be sold. Banner ads, email content, RSS feeds, interactive content, subscriptions, all of these techniques can be used to not only drive advertising revenue, but also to build circulation and brand loyalty.
I spent 7 years in the newspaper publishing business as an art director for two national weekly newspapers. When I took over as art director, we moved from paste up boards to digital layout on a Macintosh using Quark Xpress. The Internet was still young, so we had no online edition or web site, we couldn’t even send the files electronically. We used to drive the 44mb Bernoulli discs (the precursor to zip discs) to the Tweed Airport and have them flown down to the printer in Philadelphia. Recently I had the opportunity to speak to a mid-west press association group on the subject of “media convergence” and the opportunities it brought this group of small, local newspaper publisher.
I was shocked when I talked with them, how few were using the Internet for news dissemination let alone additional revenue. Most had static web sites couldn’t be easily updated in a timely manner, none had archival systems or databases that were searchable, none sold advertising outside of their publications, and they didn’t do that very well. The one excuse I heard most often was, “it’s too expensive and we don’t have the budget, or the personnel.” Of course my response to that was if you make the relatively small investment, and do it the right way, the results will pay for themselves, and the efficiencies will most likely require no additional staff, and may even justify cutting staff. I think most listened, but I am not sure if they heard. I have checked many of their web sites and in a year not much has changed.
When I talked to the group revenue was part of my presentation but the rest was on the true asset that each paper uniquely had… content. Each publication used wire copy and picked up stories from AP, and other sources, but most also created content that was unique to them. But, the only way a reader could access it was through a subscription to the publication. No one outside of the publications specific region would have access to or knowledge of the stories, and features that they worked so hard to produce.
These publications through the Internet and Internet marketing techniques have the opportunity to produce on a world wide level. They can spread their words to the world, let people choose to read or choose not to read, or let people join in the discourse. Even a small publication can use the ‘filtering” [Sunstein] power of the internet to reach the “niche” that wants the news from their side of the fence. The user has the power of customization “the is a dramatic increase in individual control over content, along with a corresponding decrease on the power of general-interest intermediaries… people are increasingly engaged in the process of personalization, limiting their exposure to topics, and points of view of their own choosing.” [Sunstsein]
The Internet is obviously the future for all news organizations and producers; from television to radio to print. To touch the audience of today you need to reach out over the means that they define, and more and more each day those means are mobile media devices, laptops, and other consumer electronics. Once there was a town crier, now there is Matt Drudge.
News content is just another commodity that needs to be accessed in the same way of all other commodities… through the Internet. E-commerce has totally shifted the way we sell today and the way we buy. Most newspapers will not go totally digital. There is always going to be the need and want for the printed word. Holding a book, or a paper and reading is part of what makes us human, its core to the human experience. Someone once asked me if I had ever tried to drag a monitor into the bathroom. But the publisher will have to evolve. I am willing to wager that the Wall Street Journal will completely due away with the stock quotes page in the next five to ten years. With world market operating 24/7 as soon as you print a stock quote its invalid. Most investors manage their portfolios through live ticker feeds, online broker services and email alerts.
Print will never die, and I am glad for that. But the people will not give up their new found choice, voice and power that the Internet has given them. The consumer has much more control, but they are still the consumer, so by definition they are looking to buy what you have to sell.