I recently presented to a regional newspaper group here in the UK during an internal conference they held to discuss the future of their industry.
Some of the issues I identified were:
1. Newspapers devalued their online advertising by offering this initially as ‘bolt-on freebies’ or ‘discounted extras’ in the UK. This not only caused an inevitable stagnation in their offering to advertisers but a negative perception in the minds of those dipping their toes into the medium. Worst of all this has come back to haunt them as they look to offer this more seriously against a back-drop of falling newspaper ad spend (21% for News Corp in the UK)
2. WSJ have developed a strategy which encompasses a number of rules surrounding successful content charging:
– Having a mix of paid and free content
– Not charging for exclusives that will be read elsewhere
– Not charging for most popular content
– Content that is charged for should appeal to niches
– The narrower the niche the better (energy, news services for CFOs etc)
The Editor of the Times also spoke at the conference and she believed content was king and key to future success.
However, is this model sustainable as subscription costs rise year on year as advertising revenue dwindles? Or is this the only way to survive? Variety magazine have kept their strategy to limited article views per month before charging users. They have seen pageviews plunge since they started this http://ow.ly/1JtRQ .
With the introduction of content charging in the UK (starting with the Times) it will be interesting to see what permutation of WSJ they use. Regional newspapers of course are in a more difficult position. Do they follow the niche content model like http://www.gazettelive.co.uk/ which is going hyperlocal with its postcode journalism (trading on their local knowledge and content), or follow Johnston Press in the UK http://www.hartlepoolmail.co.uk which only shows news items once they have appeared in the paper version (therefore using it as more of an online archive). Even with this, the hyperlocal model was thrown into disarray in 2008 with news that the BBC were to go hyperlocal.
James Murdoch may be right in his criticism of the BBC as ‘dominant’, but the reality is threats exist all around.