Are newspapers still too print-
...with analysis & insight...
The newspaper industry frequently neglects to look at the wider context in which their products or
services are consumed. Newspaper editorial staff, in my experience, always think that they really
know their audiences. But human behaviour is dynamic, and news gathering and the way news is
consumed, is constantly changing because of technology, and I’m not just talking about a version
of a newspaper that is experienced on an iPad. I was reminded of this as I created this chart from
data produced from a “The Changing Face of News Media” report from the Boston-based company,
Gather Inc. You can download the full report here. Gather Inc.’s survey of 1,450 people selected
from a wide age-range of consumers on the East Coast of the United States contains information
that is likely to be typical across a variety of other geographic areas. Unfortunately this kind of
data doesn’t often get translated into useful marketing strategies by newspaper publishers.
Five years ago I was researching how to increase engagement for a global news organisation that
was, and still is, dependent on printers’ ink for a large proportion of its profits or losses. Using
one-to-one interviews to complement the data analytics that I had previously studied, I could
predict with reasonable accuracy when regular print edition newspaper buyers would stop buying
papers. The two key influencers were: broadband speed and wireless networking. At the time
broadband speed was more important than it is now as UK connection speeds have improved in
the last few years. Wireless connections usually meant that there was more than one computer
per household. (Having to share a connection and a computer with multiple people in a household
really restricts Internet use). I observed that wireless networking also meant that the computers
connecting to that network were more likely to be laptops. It now seems a long time ago, but
what I was witnessing back then was that as the Internet became more integrated into people’s
lives, and laptops got markedly cheaper, they would gradually stop buying printed newspapers.
People who spent the longest time online during the week, stopped buying printed newspapers
Monday to Friday, but still bought them at the weekends. It seems the weekend reading habit is a
hard one to lose and, for some people, the relaxed cappuccino breakfasts with the bulky weekend
supplements is something they don’t want to give up.
If the majority of your customers have Internet access and have been using it for some time – the
Web is the primary way that a product like a newspaper is likely to be consumed. Looking at my
chart using the data from Gather Inc. these results probably won’t be a surprise to many people.
Depending on the age and the demographic split, a newspaper brand has more importance as a
Web property than as a printed version. But the senior executives of newspaper brands fail to
comprehend this, even today. Newspaper industry executives are just too print-centric (or perhaps
arrogant) to take the trouble to try to understand their customers. As a result newspapers are
declining at an even faster rate than necessary. A good example of this limited corporate mentality
is the UK-national daily, The Times, which is now charging a subscription for online access. If you
live in London, within the M25 area, you are quite likely to get a ring on your doorbell from an
attractive young girl offering to sell you an annual subscription to the printed edition of The Times
and The Sunday Times - with free delivery to your door. Here is a link to what is on offer. Copying
a marketing trick from the mobile phone industry, consumers have to commit to a 12 month
contract to qualify for their free delivery. I expect that this may eventually extend to an 18 month
contract period but perhaps News International is hedging its bets. Curiously, what the offer fails
to communicate is that the Web access is actually the primary benefit while the print edition is a
secondary benefit. But, as Gather Inc.’s data shows, that is how consumers primarily want their
news today. The print edition is the hard copy backup for those parts of the day when Internet
access isn’t available, the batteries are flat in a portable device, or when consumers want a break
from reading type on a screen. Newspapers need to understand where they are in today’s context
of use. The past was really a different country.
Senior newspaper executives are also failing to appreciate the value their readers place on the
importance of online comments. As you can see from the second chart on the slide, this is an area
vital to the overall “newspaper experience.” Visit a few newspaper websites and look at how poorly
the comment section on most of these websites work. All too frequently they use feebly-
constructed, outsourced software that has clearly been bolted on as afterthought, instead of being
central to what the brand is offering. As any regular online newspaper consumer knows: the
comments frequently provide more insight than the journalist’s original article. In any event they
certainly supplement the piece. Newspapers have always only been as important as the number
and quality of their audiences. In the past that was a measure of what they could charge
advertisers. Today, on a subscription newspaper website, that audience value is marked by its
interaction with the newspaper brand. An online newspaper brand is now a co-creation, an
extraordinary aspect of news behaviour that has been radically changed by technology.
Unfortunately this fact only receives lip-service from newspaper industry executives. Co-creation,
and all that could entail, should be a central part of a newspaper brand’s proposition for its
customers. This is an important aspect of a modern newspaper brand’s customer experience, and
fundamental to what that brand should be offering.