Last week there were some major announcements in Australia regarding the future of the print media. Fairfax and News Corp both flagged major restructures to their news businesses, in moves that many feel signify the beginning of the end of newspapers. Even Rupert Murdoch suggests they may be gone by the end of the decade. Perhaps for once the end of the world predictions are true?
A love of newspapers is learned from a young age, and for all but the youngest generation, they have always played an underrated but important role in family life. No matter what your demographic, there was always a newspaper for YOUR family. And no matter who you are, there was always a part of the paper that was compulsive viewing. Whether it was politics, news, social, sport, comics or the classifieds, there was something for everyone, a source of information, entertainment and interaction.
Of course that daily focus is now no longer exclusive to papers. The 24 hour news cycles means that the newspaper is forever looking backwards in a society that demands the gratification of instant information. That the newspaper still exists today is merely a force of ingrained habit in a world now dominated by the internet, and the devices that connects us- PC, phone or tablet.
More so, the tablet now assumes the same physical role as the newspaper, but the internet now supplies the content. Its multi-sourced and instant. Its not just news anymore, its also opinion and comments. Its not about finding what’s on, its entertainment on demand. Its not just classifieds and advertising, its about on-line retail. The newspaper delivered the world to you, now the internet delivers you to the world. Newspapers used to make money from advertising, but now they need to find new ways to create revenue from their readers.
For those of us still in love with the printed medium, its easy to bemoan the imminent demise of the old friend we’ve grown up with. News consumed on the tablet will never equal the experience of browsing through a broadsheet. But in this consideration is the fact that ubiquitous access to the internet has changed the way we live and interact with the world around us, and our media companies must realise this if they want to maintain their relevance.
Magazines are also under similar pressure, but on a more optimistic note, perhaps their plight is not as tragic as that of newspapers. Magazines are made for the reader, and although advertising is a significant revenue, under the new delivery model (internet and app stores), paywalls don’t seem as offensive as they do for daily news services. My personal favourite COSMOS magazine (and in disclosure: yes, I have friends there), has just launched the COSMOS Magazine app which completely transforms hardcopy into a totally new format for the tablet. Its worth checking this out to see how with the right thinking and a little imagination, the magazine experience might actually be improved beyond the printed medium.
As a casual observer I might venture to say that this is where Fairfax management have completely missed the point. During the dotcom boom, they jumped into digital long before it was relevant to their readers. Since then they have failed to acknowledge the changing patterns of readership and as a result not only failed to move with the times but also failed to create the right content for their audiences. Now in desperation they are murdering their print business, and erecting a paywall, well before their readers are ready for it. The outcome seems obvious.
Newscorp of course have people (besides Rupert Murdoch), that not only love and understand newspapers, but also their audience. They also have productive business interests in every media sector. Their restructure and position although not without pain will mean newspapers will survive in some form for some time. This small consolation will allow us, the readers, to decide when.
Watch FiST Chat 74: Seismic Shifts In News for more on this topic.