As we approach the end of 2009, this question becomes all the more relevant. With a full year of advertising revenues down, subscriptions and renewals declining and staff being laid off to cut costs, there have to be questions as to how the publishing industry can survive.
One thing is certain – the business model of old will have to change. Thanks to technology, people today are relying on instant news – yesterday’s news (as found in the printed newspaper) or last week’s news (as found in weekly magazines) is no longer a saleable commodity, and if the public don’t want to read it, advertisers won’t pay to advertise in it.
Of course, Rupert Murdoch’s recent comments about charging for access to his news online and preventing Google from finding his stories have further fuelled speculation as to the future of the printed word.
However, far from fearing the new technologies, publishers should be embracing them – after all, do the new technologies not extend the potential reach of any publication or broadcast platform to the entire globe?
What’s needed, and what people are looking for, in this info-saturated world is not just more information, but more useful, focused and targeted information. Instead of newspapers all trying to produce the same news for the same geographic audience, focus. That’s how Wall Street Journal and Financial Times, for example, have been able to charge for much of their content – they focus on the news that businessmen need now. If a publisher can provide knowledge, as opposed to just information, people will pay for it.
Just as general broadcast TV has given way to cable/satellite subscription services, providing more focused channel selections, so should publishers look to provide focused services that people will pay for. What’s more, such focused audiences provide a richer platform for advertisers.
I’m not for one moment suggesting that printing is dead – at least not for the foreseeable future. Like just about everyone else I speak with, there’s something about being able to read the printed word on paper that is far too appealing to me. A combination of convenience, feel, smell, I suppose. What I am suggesting is that publishers need to use technology to complement their print editions.
Knowledge has a shelf-life, and can be printed for future reference purposes (witness my stacks of magazines – National Geographic, Fast Company, Fortune, Plane & Pilot, Travel & Leisure, etc.). News, or information, is immediate and best consumed quickly – and this is where the electron should play its part (whether Internet or Broadcast). But, again, there’s no reason electronic media should not drive its audience to print, and vice-versa. I see them as, ideally, complementary rather than simply competing.
News media, rather than cutting journalists, should seek out the best they can find and encourage them to provide knowledge as well as information. Magazines should give tantalizing glimpses of what they offer to an online audience, while encouraging them to subscribe to the printed word (after all, for example, aren’t the images in a National Geographic magazine so much better than those online?). Broadcast media should encourage audiences to seek out more information than they can cover in the broadcast, driving audiences online and to print for this knowledge. And, of course, printed media should not be shy of encouraging readers to enrich their knowledge through broadcast segments, internet updates and the like.
We talk about mankind’s knowledge increasing at an exponential rate, but I suspect that much of this is just the same bits of information being repeated over and over again. We have the tools for a much richer information and knowledge environment and we should use them.