Thanks to the Internet, marketing has evolved over the years. Consumers no longer rely on billboards and TV spots — a.k.a. outbound marketing — to learn about new products, because the web has empowered them. It’s given them alternative methods for finding, buying and researching brands and pro…
"The report of my death was an exaggeration”- Mark Twain
As someone with 26 years of local media experience in newspapers and TV, I’ve witnessed several trends affect the economic and cultural viability of newspapers-
Traditional Ad Revenues through Local Aggregation
Certainly Craigslist and eBay decimated most personal classifieds. But, newspapers can improve their niche in providing vetted ads and aggregating opportunities for real estate and group or garage sales.
Newspapers must further embrace their inherent strength of gathering timely local information and repackage it in a way that meets the needs of their audience. By branching out into online mapping and archiving hyper-local knowledge, newspapers can once again be a unique advertising source. It may never match what it was, but it will put them on a path toward digital relevance.
Other niche sites such as Yelp!, Urban Spoon, Groupon are beginning to carve their way into an area that can still be best served by newspapers’ “feet on the street”. The key for print is to distance itself from their limitations in physical delivery and exploit the timeliness and improved accuracy of online targeting.
The Ubiquity of Written News
News aggregators like Google and Yahoo have not helped either, capturing and making money from newspapers’ local content. Newspapers have become increasingly reliant on search engines to attract a third to half of their online audience- a symbiotic relationship that is now similar to the tiny birds that clean a hippo’s teeth. Because of scale, Google gets the spoils and local press the scraps. Consequently, younger news readers see no need for a newspaper’s written delivery of national and world news.
Printed news was the easiest to deliver online during narrow bandwidth days. This is why newspapers were the first to be impacted by the Internet. Now, affordable bandwidth speed brings a proliferation of digital video content delivery. However, broadcast TV stations were able to adapt quicker to the trend, as their content was always free and sponsored. Still, they need to be diligent in protecting usage rights from potential repurposing by others.
Search engine traffic benefits TV more than newspaper. Video is more engaging, plus provides monetization through pre-roll ads and banner sponsorships. Video tagged properly, is also incredibly SEO-friendly. Newspapers need to learn to use video, even if they have a way to go in professional editing and story-telling technique.
The Shifts in Local Retailing
Corporate mergers, megamalls and category-killing, box stores decimated the ‘mom & pops’ and small chains in local markets. These businesses were traditionally a newspaper’s bread and butter through the 80’s. Mega-mergers and Superstores gave rise to hardball negotiations from companies and rep firms. The same firms that used to represent the papers now seek to squeeze pennies for the megastores’ shareholders. As newspapers’ share of audience and traditional local ads dwindle, they are also losing the fight for major advertisers’ budgets. Advertisers increasingly want to efficiently buy the DMA, not it’s separate suburbs. Online ad networks allow them to do both.
Newspapers are traditionally poor negotiators. Not their fault entirely, as they were so reliant on earned rates traditionally. They still deliver to a valuable mass audience during a time of explosive fragmentation and disintermediation. Combine their print and online audience and you can deliver great reach and frequency. They just need to learn from broadcast on how to get value for each audience. The riches are in niches. One size does not fit all.
The Restraints of the “Core”
Newspapers’ traditional barrier to competitive entry has become their barrier to exit. Gigantic presses and reliable daily delivery force still provide profit, if far less. In the 90’s, newspapers were afraid their web site would cannibalize their paid subscribers, so they didn’t want to be too good at digital.
Newspapers also wanted way too much for any online paywall at first; and could not band together for a reasonable pricing model. Entering the 2000’s, they saw an onslaught of search engine frenemies ransacking their regurgitated print news and niche sites carve up lucrative verticals such as automotive, real estate and local classified ads. Still, they held steadfastly to their rate cards and hesitated to take necessary steps to digital reinvention.
You never hear TV news talk about the impact of Hulu, Netflix, DVR’s, YouTube or podcasts on their audiences. Yet newspapers themselves trumpet their woes within their own pages. You are seeing TV challenges, to a degree, in the agency scrutiny of Costs Per Point and Reach/Frequency delivery of entertainment programming. Time spent with TV continues to increase as technology makes it more accessible. Sure, local broadcast TV and radio will be impacted by digital media in the next decade. As it stands today, local TV is poised to remain the primary local news source.
For some time, more people get local news from television than the newspaper or radio. Vast improvements in reporting technology and the trend of sharing footage have only accelerated TV’s lock on local news profitability. TV also does a masterful job referring their audience to their web sites. For print, it is largely an afterthought. And when they do, it tends to be for archival print stories instead of additional digital content. Television leverages audience participation, featuring viewer contributions of photos and videos within their broadcasts. Traditional newspaper editors shun such content.
What Can Papers Do?
Still, the demise of newspapers are overstated; just as the death of radio was forecasted upon the birth of TV and the VCR was predicted to be a commercial killer. Ultimately, traditional media platforms all need to continue evolving and increase their daily value- no matter the device our content is delivered through. The Comcast/NBC merger will likely be the first of many, as our viewing experience will forever change with bandwidth portability.
Newspapers need to aggregate information beyond the story and refer the audience to it frequently. They should lead with their strengths of knowing the neighborhoods, schools, crime statistics and in-depth analysis of trends that affect their readers. Become media companies dedicated to context as well as content. Break through the traditional boundaries of your sections and develop audience segments that provide desirable targets such as Parenting, Health, Personal Finance and Community Involvement. Encourage feedback and public submissions to increase engagement. Take a chance and shoot some video and then pull stills from the footage if necessary.
The public may just embrace you if they see you trying.
I’ve been an Apple user since my first Classic in 1989. Personal computers were still relatively new and Microsoft was driving the PC world largely through being “first-in” with a GUI interface. There was something about the Apple though, it seemed friendlier, intuitive- and yet sturdy and dependable. Plus they had a really cool commercial based on the tyranny of George Orwell’s “1984” that appeared in that year’s Super Bowl.
The message behind the commercial was that Apple intended to smash through the tyranny of the Microsoft interface and IBM machines. That’s where the irony begins. In the spot, the talking head on the giant screen prosthelytized “We have created for the first time in all history a garden of pure ideology, where each worker may bloom, secure from the pests of any contradictory true thoughts.” Those of you old enough recall that Apple was positioning itself as David to the oppressor’s Goliath. Thus beginning the age of “Think Different.”
Apple continued to wow it’s converts, though we struggled at times to bridge the creative things a Macintosh could accomplish with the many conversions required for life in the rest of the computerized world. If you stayed in the Apple environment, life was carefree. If you dared use the same machine for accomplishments in the Windows realm- expense and convoluted riddles ensued.
Most creative types pressed on, touting the elegance of the platform and sharing our digital art and films. Then the iPod came and gave us another reason to celebrate. It was the ultimate Walkman, keeping within the tenets of ease, grace and a well-thought interface. More Apple converts came through the ability to have a library of music in their pocket. iTunes even brought us a store enabling us to find lost classics and new favorites. Digital life was good.
Sure, Apple introduced a protection program ensuring that digital intellectual properties could not be exploited too much. It made particular sense during a time when Napster and the rest were crushing music sales. Those in the recording industry saw it as a double-edge sword as Apple began to take it’s cut of a rapidly diminishing slice of pie. But the distribution was good and the alternative was piracy.
Something turned at this point. As the world became accustomed to digital delivery of entertainment; Apple became ruthless in it’s walled garden. Upgrades came repeatedly; Terms and Conditions were clicked without hesitation as we wanted our music and TV shows delivered to our handhelds and laptops. We were hooked on our new electronic soma. They had us right where we wanted us.
Orwell’s 1984 had the masses enslaved through tyranny and lack of alternatives. In Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World" the populace indentures itself through escapism- either chemically-derived or otherwise. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.”
Our distractions now come in micro-payments of 99 cents to $2.99. Apple’s cut of intellectual property is growing with the spread of their technology. The iPhone and iPad are revolutionizing portable communication, information and entertainment. At the same time, they’re enforcing their limits to free speech and digital idea development if they can’t get their standard iProfit. That’s fair, it’s their garden.
But now, for the first time I am an Apple detractor. Not for their devices, they are by far the most innovative. It is their practices as distributor of intellectual property to which I stand opposed. Their toll for desired content has made them a Goliath that wants 30-percent for each download or subscription. My hammer to break through Apple’s garden wall? Netflix, Amazon, Android, Pandora and Google. So why do I have this feeling of Déjà vu?
My teen daughter once posted that Facebook is “like a refrigerator…when you’re bored you keep opening it every few minutes to see if there’s anything good, but nothing ever changes.”
When I commented on it the next day, she thought it really creepy that I had read what she considered to be personal. There lies the point. As we open ourselves up to hundreds of near-acquaintances, will mystery and privacy become the “next big thing”.
Generally, as things become more popular they jump the shark to become rapidly passe or uncool among trendsetters and digerati. Witness my daughter, who has a Facebook account, but just updates occasionally from her iTouch when she has absolutely nothing else to do. Not that she cares about what’s cool or uncool. And I know she loves me. But, those of us who remember being her age would all agree- if your parents can participate in it, what’s the point?
Most the Facebook and social media hype is being perpetuated by media wonks trying to carve their niche in the digital marketplace. More power to them (as I am one). Things have changed virtually overnight for all of us in news, entertainment and advertising. We are all grasping for the next big things to keep our professions relevant.
Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy what Facebook and the rest have brought to our daily lives in the form of sharing. As much as critics complain about our dehumanization by way of computer screen, the upside is interacting with old friends and learning about new, interesting things. The key word is interesting.
You see, both my daughters lead very active, interesting lives. They live in the moment and spend their days in sports, reading, studying and spending individual time with friends. They are growing up to be wonderful young adults in the middle of all these digital distractions.
As we all seek to find our balance between public and private, trends will shift rapidly. I believe the next big thing will become privacy. As ads follow us from site to site. As our internet searches become infused with opinions of acquaintances and friends-twice-removed. As our digital life becomes overwhelmed by companies trying to sell us something, one thing will be precious still.
Sharing our deepest thoughts with those who matter most.