News, Publishers, Print and Digital: An Update
by Sara Williams / July 1, 2010
Note: This blog entry is available in English only.
A couple of weeks ago I had a little rant about the three things I think publishers need to do if they want to thrive in a beyond-print era. The survival of news media is a big issue right now, and so it should be — the quality reportage of news is critical to the health of our society.
In the time since posting my argument, I’ve spotted a few new developments I think are worth sharing. Unsurprisingly, they all have a lot to do with content and the contradiction of digital content: expensive to produce (or at least, the good stuff often is) but more often than not, free to consume. Highly valuable, then, but cursed with a changeable value.
Revisioning an economy around forces like these isn’t going to be easy, but I believe it can be done. Here’s what’s happening, and why I think it matters.
The Mirror Group is cutting jobs
On July 10th, Trinity Mirror plc announced it was cutting 200 jobs — 140 of them full-time — from its three national titles. According to Richard Wallace, editor of the Daily Mirror:
Our future is a multimedia one and we need to transform ourselves into an agile media business, ready to grasp the opportunities and challenges of the multimedia world we now inhabit.
Our traditional skills and processes have to change to embrace the emerging platforms… We cannot continue to do what we do in the way that we have always done it. We simply have to evolve.
I haven’t yet heard details on what Mirror Group Newspapers has in mind for the next phase of their evolution, but I commend Wallace for recognising that technology has changed — and continues to change — the publishing landscape, and for acknowledging that the only way forward for publishers is to evolve *with* the forces of technology.
AOL is hiring writers
AOL is also moving in a new direction: it has announced a massive change in content strategy, and David Eun, president of AOL’s media and studio division, is on a hiring binge:
Our mission at this company is to be the world’s largest producer of high-quality content… We are going to be the largest net hirer of journalists in the world next year.
Eun’s new strategy is to produce and sell as much high-quality content as possible. Content will be structured around 17 advertiser-targeted networks (finance, news, family, and so on). There is logic here: create the content consumers want; engage more consumers with this content and targeted ads; reap the ad revenue rewards. But are ad revenues enough? I’m not sold, and neither is Isaac.
The New York Times is going beta
The New York Times has revealed plans to launch a public beta testing site in July or August. Beta620 will be a sort of sandbox space where publishers can experiment with new approaches and services in a live environment with real users, but without rocking the boat — or impacting profits — over on NYTimes.com.
Beta620 will allow publishers to switch new things on — and off — quickly. It’s a super-agile (small ‘a’) approach that demonstrates long-term thinking and a refreshing lack of ego on behalf of the publishers.
Sure, building a whole new testing site is going to cost more in the short term (the old guard doesn’t like this); it also puts the publisher in a position where any mistakes will happen in public (the old guard *really* doesn’t like this). But with Beta620, The New York Times Media Group is making it very clear that it is no rigid, fail-averse, old guard brand. Technology is changing, and NYTimes.com is changing with it.
Rolling Stone pitted print against online… and got stung
After breaking what may turn out to be the story of the year — the General Stanley McChrystal insubordination expose — Rolling Stone stuck to the old ‘print before digital’ protocol and pretty much scooped itself.
Michael Hastings’s damning article, The Runaway General, features in the July 8-22 issue of Rolling Stone magazine, which means it went on sale from Friday 25th June. But as is per usual with a story this big, the publisher deliberately leaked the story to whet the public’s and wider press’s appetite (and drive print sales when the magazine hit newsstands on the 25th). And here’s where things started to go wrong…
Chumming the water worked in a print-only, non-conversational news environment. But today, when everyone’s a blogger? Hell, no. This story was too big to schedule. Everyone was talking about it except Rolling Stone, which refused to put the piece online early. Result: a feeding frenzy on The Huffington Post, Salon.com and all sorts of other news channels, but nothing on Rolling Stone itself until as scheduled on the Friday, by which point the naughty general had already been sacked by President Obama.
The Guardian’s Emily Bell summed up the situation perfectly:
The magazine’s story management prompted media analysts to wonder if nothing had changed for the publication in the past 40 years. Although the ownership of the scoop was clear, its rapid dissemination around the web after Rolling Stone had “teased” news outlets with advance copies left the publisher out of the conversation it had provoked.
It was one hell of a fail for Rolling Stone. For the countercultural touchstone to impact government policy to the point that the President actually fires a senior general was a huge win… but for the publication to concurrently bar itself from its own party — on the grounds of what, tradition? — was just bizarre.
Here’s what the magazine should have done: break the rules with the story. Put it online early, and if it’s not too late, supplement the print edition with some peripheral content so the print magazine still offers readers something the digital version doesn’t. Can’t do that? Then do everything you can to maximise digital revenue on the three or four days site traffic busts through the stratosphere. Subscription tie-ins, conversations with users about what they really want from the site, even (dare I say it?) banner ads… make the most of that traffic and give them a reason to come back.
This isn’t just about different ways of getting information, or redesigns of websites and print publications, or hirings and firings. It’s about the passage of information around our society. The survival of news publishers is relevant to all of us, and personally very important to me. I want to live in a world with a surplus of high-quality news, opinion and comment. How publishers embrace, adapt to or reject changing technologies will determine whether this happens.
I sort of feel like I’m watching something enormous crash into the sea, and I’m hoping something amazing emerges from the wreckage.