It’s no secret that Newspapers are dying. Look at any set of figures and they are on a slow (and sometimes fast) downward spiral. Circulation is down. And advertising revenue has been badly hit. One could be cynical enough to wonder if all the talk about a new housing bubble in Ireland is a desperate “Hail Mary” pass to bring back advertising revenue.
So what are Newspapers to do? “Go digital or home” might be the mantra. Lots of eyeballs online to compensate for fewer eyeballs offline? All chasing the same advertising dollar? Not the best strategy in the world. Paywalls. Sure if you’re the New York Times there may be some margin in that. What happens if The Irish Times puts up a paywall?
Even if people are buying the paper they don’t have time to read the damn thing. TV, Radio, Buzzfeed, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, iPlayer, NetFlix, Spotify, WhatsApp, Vox, Viber, Vocativ, Vice. 57 bajillion channels of information. And not enough time. Not even at the weekend. As Markham Nolan deftly asked on Twitter last week
RT if your Sunday NY Times sits lumpen & unread in your apartment. Fave if you’re not online and actually have time to read.
— Markham Nolan (@markham) October 8, 2014
So what are Newspapers to do? There can only be a few New York Times/Guardian/Mail Online sites. Offering a generic product that a million others are offering in a generic marketplace is not a happy place to be. News in many respects is the reddest of Red Oceans. Draw a Wardley Map of News and its not going to a pretty picture.
A different approach is to go swimming in a Blue Ocean. Create new products that people will pay for. Stop chasing the advertising revenue. Yes maximise the amount you can make with your current product and stop obsessing about that and how many copies of pure paper sales you’ll make. Create new products and sell them to people.
Journalists, good journalists, are great on insight, on synthesis and generating value from information. So they should build products that people will pay for. Business products, financial services products, sports products, personal products. Yesterday LovinDublin introduced a mobile app. It has an interesting model, you pay €3.59 per month for a specialist magazine. You pay for the product. Niall Harbison who is behind LovinDublin is loved and hated in equal measure if the Twitter reaction is anything to go by. And he has by all accounts a terrible cheek in asking for money a product.
The question I’d like to ask is how come none of our Newspapers with hundreds of staff producing volumes of content on a daily basis came up with this idea? This product could fail spectacularly. Or it may make a nice little revenue stream. It’s not going to bankrupt Niall or LovinDublin. And it certainly wouldn’t bankrupt any of our Newspapers. It’s a safe fail experiment. And Newspapers and News organisations need to do lots of those.
There are lots of products that will add value to peoples lives that Newspapers are capable of creating. And lots of products that businesses could pay for. There are lots of data in the world that can be used to build new products and services for people. Newspapers and News organisations could and should be working on these. No one is suggesting this is easy or painless. It’s a bit like a caterpillar transforming itself into a butterfly, painful as hell and rips the creature apart in the process before something new is created. And it beats the alternative. Better butterfly than bankrupt.
If your mission is to produce great journalism then go create some products that will pay for that. It used be Crosswords, TV Guides, Restaurant Reviews, and Horoscopes. Now is the time to create some new ones.
(Some of the ideas here crystallised in conversation with Gavin Sheridan)