I know it’s like a madman’s lot-throwing competition out there, with constant battles between doom mongers and those they call dinosaurs.
“The newspaper is dead!” shouts one camp at the other, who then throws the argument right back: “How can it be dead, if it’s still making so much money?” and “yes, there’s a drop in circulation, but that’s cyclical”. “You’re blind to change – retorts the doomsayer, “can’t you see that within a few years you’ll disappear?”
In the time that I have worked for News International and The Sun newspaper, there was a constant stream of arguments from both sides. It’s fair to say that all the newspaper people that I met, be it in my employer’s newsroom or in other papers, were pre-occupied with this same discussion. The heated debate often resulted in waves of investment in newspaper digital divisions, followed by lulls of calm, when suddenly it didn’t seem so important â€“ because the revenue from digital, though growing, was nothing like the bread and butter newsprint on ‘proper paper’.
It’s interesting that both sides of this debate in the newspaper industry often define each other in terms of whether they “get it” or not. I can recall numerous occasions when newspaper old hands explained to me that digital is very important, but digital people don’t always ‘get’ the essence of what good journalism and editorial is all about’. You leave the meeting and go to the office next door, to speak to the digital guy, and he would say the same about newspaper people: they don’t always â€˜get it’.
So against that backdrop, here are my predictions:
Newspapers will not die, but within ten years will be available almost exclusively on e-paper, as constantly updating news sources, in a format that is more pleasing than screens. There will be significant consolidation within the industry during this time, but news content providers who will survive ten years of decline in print with their content gathering and production operations intact will live to benefit from a lucrative market, and make lots of money.
Now let’s unpick this statement:
e-paper - is at a very early phase of its development, but as Bill Gates said, “…people tend to overestimate what can change in a year or two, and they underestimate the cumulative effect of change that can take place in a 10 or 15-year period” (source). The vision is of something that looks very much like newspapers today, but is dynamic and interactive and the content on the pages is constantly updated through GSM/Wifi. When I did some research about e-paper in a previous role, I found that people who watched Minority Report understood the reference better (as John Anderton runs from his pre-crime colleagues onto a subway train, he looks over another passenger’s shoulder to see the e-newspaper update to the breaking news [that he is wanted]). This is the concept at the core of what I’m taking about, and its beauty is that because it is constantly updating there is a subscription model right there in the updates, and the ability to serve dynamic advertising.
Constantly updating news sources: readers now expect news to be up-to-date and fresh all the time. The 24-hour news-cycle is well and truly engrained in our expectations, and although commentary and features can have a longer time-span, traditional newspapers will have to adapt to this. The ability of e-paper to do so, is therefore a great selling point for epaper. Did I mention subscription model?
In a format that is more pleasing than screens: we know that people do not read large chunks of text for prolonged periods of time online. This is in part what still keeps print media in business. However, if you can replicate the same tactile and visual serendipity effect you have in newspapers in a digital format – then you’ve won. Pure and simple..
Significant consolidation within the industry: newspapers are already downsizing editorial staff in the wake of the tough market conditions. But the key to newspaper survival is in understanding that their product is the content. No blogger, citizen journalist or news wiki can replace a well-edited, reliable primary source that subscribes to journalistic standards. No brand extension, digital initiative or diversification will change this basic premise. Those who manage to continue their support for good accurate content will survive. Others will slide gradually into oblivion.
Here endeth my prediction. Let’s revisit this again in 2018 and see if I was right.