What Newspapers & Magazines Learned After The Crunch

& What They Still Need To Learn

Newspapers and magazines were left with three big problems after the crunch: PaperInk and Press. ‘Digital’, ‘updated’ and ’shared’ were supposed to be the answers to these issues. However, monetizing online became an entirely new challenge for print media.

The technology revolution has created a space where the print medium is unable to reasonably compete. Traditional standards for sharing information have almost become obsolete. For example, people can send/receive free, up-to-the-minute news updates in less than 140 characters from Twitter or structure complex information into infopgrahics where they can be made interactive, more visual and simple -all of which can be easily shared with hundreds or thousands of people with the click of a mouse. News sites have the challenge of being fully optimized for the web (i.e. relevant + free) while making enough money to sustain the industry.

Mark Morford from the SF Gate pinned it when he wrote: Change is mandatory. Change is healthy. But change is also a total bitch.

Here are some of the most important lessons print media has learned since its radical shift online- along with some lessons it still needs to learn before it can become a truly lucrative online business.

Lesson 1: Shifting from static to dynamic platforms

Before the crunch: Information was centralized, restricted to those with printing presses or broadcast mechanisms.

What they learned after the crunch: 
– Information is open and can be shared via many outlets: blogs, online forums, videos, images…
– Information is social. News is a discussion and you have to engage with readers by permitting comments and adding share buttons.

What they still need to learn: Information + Online = Free. Google was created “To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”. Newspapers and magazines have to develop a way to make their information free to readers while still being lucrative. This may entail having to drop the old ads and subscriptions-based revenue model for some new online alternatives.

Lesson 2: Changing content structure

Before the crunch: – Content and ads were dispersed throughout the newspaper.
– Articles were longer, more thorough. (It could take you a whole day to read a newspaper from front to back)

What they learned after the crunch: Lists, Top Tens and the delicate art of micro information. The Web conditions a climate of fierce competition for people’s attention. In the age of efficiency and multitasking an article’s content has to be structured in a way that enables the reader to process information quickly-before the 4 second threshold is up, the user gets bored and moves on. Lists break down information so that the reader can skim through the article and get a clear understanding of the story.

What they need to learn: Focus on building social authority. Newspapers already have credibility and therefore have a unique advantage on the Web. By providing readers more personalized content, news sites can offer helpful information and generate ad revenue at the same time. I will expand on this point next.

Lesson 3: Online Money-Making Strategies

Before: Revenue based on ads and subscriptions.

What they learned after the crunch: Not much. Time magazine advocated a system that includes both subscriptions and micro-payments for individual stories. With profits falling, newspapers have been laying off staff and cutting back on their most expensive reporting projects – overseas bureaus and investigative journalism-arguably, two of the most compelling and unique pieces of content news sites can offer.

Top 5 Daily Newspapers in the United States.
Newspaper Circ as of 3/31/10/ % Change

1. Wall Street Journal 2,092,523  +0.5% (WSJ was the only newspaper among the top twenty-five in America, to actually gain new readers.)
2. USA Today 1,826,622  -13.58% 
3. The New York Times 951,063   -8.47% (NYT was forced to drop paid Internet subscription services)
4. Los Angeles Times 616,606  -14.74% 
5. Washington Post 578,482   -13.06%

What They Need To Learn:
 A Guardian article written by Grig Davidovitz and Max Levitte proposes some very sound and interesting e-marketing solutions to help solve some of the financial woes newspapers have been facing.

They say:

“Newspapers should be the online authority on what to buy and what to do. Not only is this their duty in our age of information overload, it can easily be converted into revenue.”

“[News sites should] link to product or service providers.” (The newspaper generates revenue when the reader clicks on these links)

Every actionable article (a book review, a travel guide) should have links to enable relevant action. (This could also generate revenue when a reader clicks on the link)

The newspaper industry has weathered previous troughs and while the paper in newspaper may go away, the news will still remain. Many speculate that e-readers like the Kindle and the iPad may prove to be news businesses shining knight in armor. Reaching out to readers using mobile technology is definitely a step in the right direction.The most important goal for newspapers and magazines to concentrate on is creating online business models that generate sums they achieved by previous advertisement and circulation-driven revenue streams.

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