We have a few clients who work in the news and publishing industries. These industries have always seemed out of date to me, but I recognise that many of these companies are working hard (scrambling?) to get into the digital age. One of the best articles I have read on this issue comes from Fast Company, and was written by Richard Watson under the Innovation heading of the magazine. You can read the article here.
A quick summary of what newspapers can do to become 21st century compliant:
- Change the format: e.g. compact formats for commuters (e.g. The Times and The Independent (UK) have been available in a choice of two sizes)
- Personalise the content: e.g. there are kids newspapers (e.g. Play Bac Presse in France)
- Allow readers to help with personalisation: e.g. there are newspapers written entirely by readers (OhMyNews in South Korea is created by 33,000 â€˜citizen reporters’ and is read by 2 million South Koreans). In the US the Wisconsin State Journal (the State’s second largest selling paper) asks its readers to go online everyday between 11A.M. and 4 P.M. to vote for the next day’s lead story. Consequences include the fact that sports stories have started to appear on page one.
- We are entering a new participation age where the traditional boundaries between the creator and the consumer are becoming eroded or disappearing altogether. One of the biggest questions arising from this type of open innovation is who owns openly created content?
- Give it away for free. Most newspapers create revenue by charging people twice. You pay to buy the paper and you pay to place an ad (e.g. classified ad). The theory is that advertising supports subscriptions and newsstand sales but it won’t for much longer. In the future most weekday newspapers will be free. Early examples of this trend include Metro and 20 Minuten. Alternatively, you can buy a copy of Loot — which costs money — but it’s free to place a classified advertisement.
- Go local – Many local titles are thriving because they are personalised. The news is local and advertising tends to be localised and highly accountable — which is something that people are making a song and dance about in new media circles. For example, Fox Network is customizing its TV ads so that local neighborhoods can receive tailored TV commercials.
- Get your content right – Put simply, there is now so much digital content around that it’s becoming valueless. Physical media in contrast — especially content that is thoughtfully written, expertly edited and well designed — cuts through.
A number of papers I’ve seen have shrunk the actual size of the pages, to save money. Others have stayed the same, but compared to larger urban papers, the print is larger. I think they could both shrink the page size as well as the type, or maybe add content in the form of ads.
Some papers have lessoned the amount of space for letters to the editor. I think that is a mistake. The more participation there is, the more people will want to write, which in turn, may improve circulation. How much it would help would be a guess on my part. This is just my intuition talking.
Where I live (mid-sized city or large town, depending on how you look at it), a new independent has just started, a few months ago. I think one or two of the ideas presented in the article you posted would be helpful.
The most interesting idea I saw was the citizen-reporter written paper, and the apparent success it has seen.
From what I can see the challenge is to know your readership really well (not only who they are, but also when and where they read). Some people read online at work, while others have long commute to work (this is usually when I read the paper)…