“Data Driven Thinking” is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.
Today’s column is written by Andy Monfried, CEO of Lotame.
Old-school newspaper people are generally hard working, gritty, risk taking, roll-up-your-sleeve folks who aren't afraid to go the extra mile. They will do anything to get the story and get it to their readers. As of late, many traditional newspaper companies have become the story. A story of falling ad revenue, of digital revenue failing to make up the gap, and of younger people increasingly less likely ever to develop the habit of buying a printed newspaper. Newspaper executives know they need to change the way they do business.
Here are five steps that can save the newspaper business in the face of this inevitable and monumental change -- change that is crushing an entire industry, in the same way that Henry Ford's cars crushed the horse-and-buggy trade in the early 1900's.
1) Stop paying lip service to digital and quickly hire or move appropriate resources to digital. Too often we hear executives tell us how important digital is to their future, and how they are spending so much time and energy on it. And yet I'm frequently surprised by the significantly under-resourced digital teams we encounter in the news vertical, especially when it comes to bread-and-butter operations experts required to power a 2013 digital advertising strategy. Bottom line, news businesses need to invest more than words into (and onto) the digital team.
2) Bring your offline data online. Newspapers have home addresses of both current and former subscribers (and often other relevant customer data as well). Bring all of that information and data online -- and partner with a reputable, privacy-compliant firm to do the matching to a cookie. This is a no-brainer, and frankly one that speaks back to point #1, above.
3) Become a technology company. "This is not in the DNA of newspapers" is something I hear all of the time. Well, you'd better start inserting it into your DNA, or you won't be around much longer. And there's no excuse not to. It's become simple enough for each publication to employ data management, robust analytics, and customization tools across their content. It's an inexcusable failure when a newspaper cannot tell each advertiser the size of the actual audience who viewed their ad and took some kind of action — or didn't. Content holders are in an ideal position to harvest this information, but when will they share this kind of learning and information with their brands?
4) Give away tablets to subscribers. Think iPad, Kindle, or some customized device that receives only the content of that newspaper. Have advertisers help defray the cost by sponsoring it with their logo. Consumers have already moved to mobile devices anyway -- give away a piece of inexpensive technology to deliver content. Then, cut back to three days a week of print, as the New Orleans Times Picayune has done, with others surely to follow. The people who complain about not getting their daily newspaper will have a tablet from their newspaper to read.
5) Stop making incremental changes. Make bold moves. The newspaper industry is like a big cruise ship, unable to quickly change course in the face of a big storm ahead. Executives who make large, decisive bets around digital will win. Those who don't will be interviewing for jobs soon, most likely in digital, anyway.
Any newspapers that are not following steps like those outlined above need to start doing so immediately. Some already have. The Atlantic, a major publisher, now generates more revenue from digital than it does from print, a milestone achieved by embracing these kinds of changes. Don't say it can't be done; they did it.
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