- Of Man, Machine, Google News’ Editor’s Picks and Emerging from the Dark AgesWhat Editor's Picks is a response to is an intriguing question. Yes, Google still is the huge driver of traffic to news sites, much as they differentiate the value of its many fly-by referrals from the relative few that make a meaningful revenue difference, sending, it says, more than a billion referrals to news publishers worldwide each month. Yet, its behemoth standing is being challenged on multiple fronts. Facebook, Twitter and Linked In are newly proving the power of social news links. Further, in Steve Jobs' mythical world, which is fast becoming, our own reality, search is so yesterday, replaced by a single-purpose (Apple-enabled), high-branded apps. With apps, search necessity is diminished, and we've already tiptoed into that world.
- For the Economist: Beyond “Objectivity,” the Web’s Transparency Opens a New Window for JournalistsFor journalists today it is a two-way window. On the creation end, no matter how much they crowdsource, use Twitter and engage with communities, core journalistic principles of fairness remain fundamental. On the viewing end, the new transparency helps us get it more correct, we would hope. Window washing, then, becomes the new order of the day
- For the Economist: Preserving the Best of Media CultureIn any city, the number of print journalists far outnumbers broadcasters, even though in America the daily reach of TV news is fairly close to that of newspapers. Too often broadcasters follow up on (and feed off) work begun by print journalists. (At worst, it is "rip and read", driven by ratings, with far less of a balance of public service and profit.) Without that daily work in print, the whole ecosystem of news spins out of balance, as it has already begun to do.
- With News Corp Scandal, Guardian Approaches 4 Million Daily VisitorsIt has seen a huge jump in people visiting its website. On Monday, a peak, in this amazing, still-unwinding tale, the Guardian saw nearly 4M uniques. That compares with 2.8 million a day in May, and that was an above-average month for the Guardian, when it landed 51 million uniques overall.
- Newspaper Publishers: Within 5 Years, We’ll Have the Youngest Fleet (of Tablets) in the IndustryAmerican intends to go from one of the oldest (our backs testify) fleets in the industry to the newest. What else might this remind us of? Who's got the oldest platform in the business. Think Johannes Gutenberg. Think 1450. Yes, the printing press.
Talk about a December surprise. News is being poured, or leaked, out of the New York Times Company with unexpected near-Christmas volume. Today’s news that the Times Company is finally selling its New York Times Regional Newspaper Group holdings of 14 newspapers absolutely fits with the last week’s news of CEO Janet Robinson’s abrupt departure.
The New York Times is slimming down to bulk up. It is no longer a newspaper company, with a strong national newspaper, a Boston cousin in the Globe and regional newspaper interests. It is a global news company whose future is mostly digital, and it will live or die on that adventure. It is a company that now sees 63% of its revenues (last from the third quarter) coming from the Times print and digital operations. Over the past several years, the Times — despite its many trials (selling its flagship building, participating in Carlos Slim usury, before paying back the 14% $250 million loan to the Mexican magnate) — has outperformed financially both the regional group and the Globe .
That only makes sense. Borrowing lessons from Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and many others, the global Times is about scale. You can pay a Times reporter to write a story that can reach some of the Times ‘ 50 million global monthly unique visitors, three-fifths of them in the U.S. Or you can pay a Gainesville or Tuscaloosa reporter a little less to write a story that can reach a hundreth of that total. Do the math, and the future bet is on the company with the big global news brand and the reach.
The regional news companies, important as they are to their communities, have been but a business distraction. The Times has tried to sell them before, pulling back as market conditions forced it to do. Now Halifax Media Group seems set to complete its deal, which we’d have to believe is in final form given its inclusion of the NYTRNG papers on its website (courtesy of Romenesko), now taken down. Halifax is part of new generation of newspaper property buyers, believing they can make a go of these distressed properties, through more consolidation of jobs and other efficiencies. (“Now at Fire Sale Prices, a Few Newspapers…and Maybe More,” Newsonomics, Dec. 2, 2011)
For the Times now, and going forward, the competition is CNN, the BBC, News Corp, ABC, NBC, the Guardian, Bloomberg, Reuters and several others. Who indeed will be among the most trusted names in the (digital) news business?
The spasms of change at the Times come ironically after one of the most relatively successful years for the company. Yes, profits are still tough to come by — a measly $33 million in the last quarter — but the company pulled off a digital pay scheme that has established a modest beachhead. It begins to provide the Times a second digital revenue stream, in addition to advertising. Circulation revenues grew 3.4% for the last period, as the Times’ new digital All-Access push circulation had netted 324,000 “digital” subscribers of one kind or another and enabled the first Sunday home delivery print increase since 2006. It has positioned itself well with apps for emerging tablet and smartphone platforms, moving quickly into the Apple Newsstand, for instance. It is aiming for ubiquity and is in the lead of the newspaper pack, with the Journal nipping and biting along the way.
Yet, ominously, print advertising revenues decreased 10.4 percent and digital advertising revenues decreased 4.5 percent in the last quarter. 2012 looks like another down year, in high single digits. In fact, there’s an array of numbers that offer a quite uneven path to success next year, as I described in the Newsonomics of 2012′s Magic Formula, last week.
Consequently, the company is barely keeping even, and will likely have to accelerate cuts next year to stay profitable. So the plow must be sped. With less than a quarter of its revenues now driven by digital, the Times has to move quicker. It may balance (smartly as its done with its Sunday print/digital pricing) package print and digital, but it is has to grab mind share and market share in all the emerging digital spaces, tablet, smartphone, connected TV and web.
Expect the new CEO, most likely from the outside to be focused on three A’s: audience, advertising and analytics. Arrange those three in a virtuous circle, and you have an efficient spinning of the new digital economy. That’s clearly what Time Inc has in mind as it hired Laura Lang from the ad world.
The new CEO must also drive a faster kind of decision-making at the Times Company, a company now seeing both CEO Robinson and digital head Martin Nisenholtz leaving at the same time, the latter by retirement. Famously balkanized, with numerous power centers, the company has been both innovative and plodding. That’s an odd combo, but one fitting its prudent-above-all news culture. With one distraction removed (and now we wonder about the Boston Globe, its own pay scheme innovation underway, and how long it will remain a Times Company property), the new CEO aces a tough terrain. Given that the company, even post NYTRNG sale, is 90%+ newspaper-based, it suffers in its ability to grow. News Corp, CNN, Reuters and Bloomberg all are part of large, diversified companies that can buffer them from the permanent print ad downturn. As Janet Robinson found, the path forward is an extremely narrow one.
Filmmaker Peter Weir, talking about his career and his newly released “The Way Back,” a tale of survival.
“Really as a filmmaker you spend all your life working on simplification. That’s what you aim for if you’re lucky enough to have a long career.”
Well-said, and applies to those crafting the future of news as well.
Bay Citizen’s Jonathan Weber explains the ins and outs of working as a New York Times bureau, nailing some of the difficulties of marrying old and new journalism as the Times reaches beyond its old comfort zone.Read more »
“The question is whether people will trade freedom for convenience. I think they will. They have before.”Read more »
World-class blog expert John Wilpers shares the tips of his trade, including: “I consider myself a blog matchmaker: I match the needs of information companies (newspapers, magazines, online-only news sites) for ever broader, more relevant, and deeper content with the needs of bloggers for exposure, broader platforms, enhanced credibility, and increased revenue opportunities. There are blog wranglers out there cramming websites full of blogs without regard for the benefit of the company or the blogger, creating blogger ghettos distinguished only by the fact that the content is created by non-staffers”.Read more »
Barry Graubart is a guru of smart, company use of social tools, in addition to serving as Vice President, Product Strategy & Business Development at Alacra. He recently participated in an SIIA seminar I led around Law #1: “We’re Becoming Our Own and Each Other’s Editors.”
His thinking impressed the breakfast group and he followed up with 13 suggestions, which we’re sharing more broadly.Read more »
As the Times Company readies its sale of the Boston Globe (at the Nieman Lab today, I further explore the sale of the Globe and Tribune metro properties), it’s clear the Globe is underperforming the Times. It was down 6.7% in overall revenue, as its reader revenue lost 1.9% and advertising declined 10.1%. Two takeaways here: 1) the new owners of the Globe face a tough challenge in getting back to growth, given those numbers; 2) as the Times emerges as essentially a standalone entity, its own reader revenue strategy looks better. Without the Globe, it was up 8.2% in circulation dollars.
The national ad market movement from print to digital may be faster than the regional one. As Gannett, the largest newspaper company reported yesterday, it announced a 4.5% decline in ads. Gannett’s ad revenue is more heavily tilted to retail advertisers,, whose movement from print to digital is slower than either classifieds (largely gone) and now national. Significantly, Gannett, also reported a 14.5 percent increase in local market circulation revenue.
In sum, paywalls are working, but will they be enough to turn the industry from red ink to black?
It’s incredibly sobering to remember that three of 10 readers have abandoned news outlets. That’s a reflection both of those newsroom reductions, which have removed three of 10 journalists, and how newspapers still spend way too much money in ways that don’t improve the product. Newspapers spend 10-20% of their overall budgets on content creation. It’s not enough; readers are voting with their feet. In a time when reader revenue is what’s working — that number one bright spot — publishers have got to figure out how to spend more on the single source of growth, readers.
As new NAA CEO Caroline Little puts it, “America’s newspaper media are transforming themselves.” “In virtually every community they serve, newspapers have the biggest newsrooms, the best-known brands and significant audience market share. Now they are building on those to find new ways to serve audiences and local businesses.” All true. That said, this profound and long-required transformation has been profoundly slow. In 2013, we finally see more innovators and innovation, but the overall numbers in the NAA survey point to relatively glacial change.Read more »
It’s the membership program — one that’s not unique in the industry — that will catch the headlines.The Register wants to go big. It approached the Angels, located 10 minutes away, with the idea of better using the empty seats the Angels couldn’t sell. The Angels found themselves sitting on almost 600,000 empty seats last year over 81 games. Put another 7,000 butts in those seats each night, even without getting paid for the ticket, and the club is pulling in another 10 bucks or so on Chronic Tacos, garlic fries, and overpriced Corona.
The perk is available on a first-signed-up, first-served basis to the Register’s 124,000 seven-day subscribers, beginning 72 hours before each game. Forty-eight hours before the game, the Angels, through Ticketmaster, release available seats. Register Connect buyers can nab four tickets, for a service charge of $5. Within a year — subject to going to the end of the electronic queue after landing some tickets — fans can claim as many as 96 tickets a season.
“We’re looking to execute at scale,” Spitz explains, noting that lots of membership perks are good, but few are likely to move the needle of buying and retention. The Angels’ ticket program is that touch of likely brilliance.Read more »
2012 is the first year in which circulation revenue has surpassed advertising revenue. Full-year, it’s now 51% of all revenues.
Especially given the continued ad decline, that majority revenue number is hugely important. It’s now the foundation of the business, and it gives the Times the only real stability it enjoys. As it becomes a larger and larger share of revenues, the ad loss — even if it continues — becomes a bit more manageable. One often-unseen point here: digital subscriber “churn” is lower than print churn; fewer readers cancel.Read more »
Welcome to the emerging world of value exchange. It’s not a new idea; value exchange has been used in the gaming world for a long time. As the Zyngas have figured out, only a small percentage of people will pay to play games. So they’ve long used interactive ads, quizzes, surveys, and more as ways to wring some revenue out of those non-payers.
It’s a variation on the an old saw that says much of life boils down to two things: money and time. It also brings to mind the classic Jack Benny radio routine, “Your Money or Your Life.” If people won’t pay for media with currency, many are willing to trade their time.
Now the idea is arriving at publishers’ doorsteps. It is being tested mainly, but not exclusively, as a paywall alternative. Yet, as we’ll see it, there may be many other innovative uses of time-based payment.Read more »
Renamed NewsRight, it was an industry consortium, and here a truism applies: It’s tougher for a consortium — as much aimed at defense than offense — to innovate and adjust quickly. Or, to put it in vaudevillian terms: Dying is easy — making decisions among 29 newspaper companies can be torture.
It formally launched just more than a year ago, in January 2012 (“NewsRight’s potential: New content packages, niche audiences, and revenue”), and the issues surfaced immediately. Let’s count the top three:
1) Its strategy was muddled. Was it primarily a content-protection play, bent on challenging piracy and misuse? Or was it a way to license one of the largest collections of categorized news content? Which way did it want to go? Instead of deciding between the two, it straddled both.
2) In May 2011, seven months before the launch, the board had picked TV veteran David Westin as its first CEO. Formerly head of ABC News, he seemed an odd fit from the beginning. A TV guy in a text world. An analog guy in a digital world.
3) Publishers’ own interests were too tough to balance with the common good.
Among these four newer products, we can see the emerging new rules of publishing creation. Among them:
Critical mass enables growth. Niche product creation that builds on existing company infrastructure, knowledge and marketplace learnings is the cost-effective way to go. Each of these companies adapted what they learned to these new launches. Politico’s seven Pro products illustrate this most clearly; Atlantic Media’s cousin-by-cousin launches put a parallel spin on the notion. (Intriguing side note: Politico owner Robert Allbritton put his once-core TV station holdings on the market last week, saying he wanted to further invest in and around Politico. The “around” could include replicating the Politico business model in a new coverage niche.) This is a new power of incumbency. It’s not the ownership of a printing press, as it was for newspaper publishers in the old days.
Analytics leads the way; in-person follow-up seal the deal. You may have an intuition about a new market, but checking it out — doubly — is essential.
Help your audience deal with future and present shock. Covering a sector is one thing; covering in a way that embraces — and tries bring a bit of order to — the multiple change issues of any audience is another. That’s an aspirational and competitive editorial positioning, but we can see ongoing examples of it in the work that Mint, Quartz, and Politico already produce.
Events are emerging as both a vital new revenue source and an almost counterintuitive high-touch part of the mostly digital business mix. HuffPost Live, Google Hangouts, and assorted other ways to assemble online community are great experiments and promising tools, but old-fashioned in-person events are gaining strength as we all go more digital. That’s an important learning about the value of relationship, and how to reinforce it, even in the age of MOOCs.
It’s not print or digital. It’s digital and print, suited to audience reading habits — which of course are a moving target. Influentials, like all of us, toggle between the two.
Design is an important part of these acquisitive moves. One reason these companies have value on the market is that they stand out. It must be said: For the most part, news companies have once again missed a chance to innovate, to make something new of a new platform. Flipboard, Pulse, and Zite each saw the potential of tablet news and magazine feature reading early and set to work to present it harnessing the glowing touchscreen. Now Flipboard 2.0 (build your own magazine) and Zite 2.0 are moving to a next generation. The best newspaper sites have mastered the utilitarian basics, but they hardly break new presentation ground. They also emphasize a single brand, where plainly many readers relish cross-title variety and a bit of serendipity. Innovation on tablet news design has been minimal, and it’s outsiders who largely deserve the credit for it.
One noteworthy exception: AP Mobile. While it lacks the finesse of Flipboard, it delivers a national and local experience, bringing in hundreds of local news feeds into its tablet and smartphone products, and is one of the top news apps downloaded in Apple’s App Store. AP Mobile is a rare case of newspaper cooperation, building a single customer experience; now it’s up to AP to deliver the next-generation mobile experiences.Read more »