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But will it work?
October 21, 2012
CALGARY, AB, Oct. 21,2012/ Troy Media/ – Newsweek‘s Editor-in-Chief Tina Brown said it best: The weekly news magazine’s move to online delivery exclusively in the year ahead was ‘inevitable.’
Such inevitability will extend to many, many more news organizations, which carved out their original audiences through the printed word, circulated on paper that readers could hold, fold, clip, collect and share.
Newsweek‘s print circulation had dropped by 51 per cent over the past five years, while magazine has 80 per cent fewer pages of advertising over a similar timeframe. Loses are said to be around $40 million. Given those figures, ‘inevitable’ feels like an understatement.
Many readers who grew up with newspapers, magazines and books will lament the Newsweek decision, and be predictably unhappy with the reduction of the amount of information printed on paper. Sad to say, though, this shift is permanent. Advertising revenue through online sources this year should surpass advertising revenue for all print sources in the U.S., including newspapers. There is advertising growth potential online, but it won’t automatically flow to online news sites.
Cutting printing and other production costs, while experimenting with new forms of revenue generation, is the only way forward for news media outfits. Print products will become highly specialized, niche offerings, likely ones readers will need to pay extra for. Information online will be the main source for anyone interested in the more immediate events happening in the world around them.
Newsweek isn’t the first to make the leap, but it has a higher profile than some others. A number of newspapers in the United States have gone entirely online, such as the Las Vegas Sun and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, or Seattlepi.com. Others have reduced their printed editions to three times weekly, including the New Orleans Times-Picayune. Some of the most respected U.S. newspapers now force readers to pay additionally for online content, but only a few have the cache to pull that off. People are used to getting information for free online, which is confounding in that they seem willing to buy other products offered through the Internet.
In Canada, Post Media recently dropped the Sunday editions of its newspapers in several of the media markets it serves to cut costs. The company has also piloted projects using limited pay walls that cost subscribers an additional amount of money for access to online content. The Toronto Globe and Mail pushed its online content behind a pay wall (October, 2012), less 10-free stories a day. The initial public reaction to the move was not very supportive, though if any Canadian news organization has the profile and content to pull it off, the Globe and Mail is it.
Full details of the impact of the move to online have yet to be entirely disclosed by Newsweek‘s owners, but there will be some 270 jobs lost, and reductions of hundreds of millions over time on printing and distribution costs. There’s no guarantee that this move will save the publication, but the changes will allow Newsweek to stay in the fight for an audience, though victory in that battle has proven allusive for other news organizations. To survive, Newsweek will need to quickly develop its online subscriber base, while tackling the information content problem.
Today the world knows what happened just about everywhere on the globe a few minutes after it does, and the future for news outlets is to provide a product rife with analysis and context, good writing, well produced multimedia, and audience engagement opportunities. News companies also need to have a sophisticated idea, demographically speaking, as to the audience they are seeking to attract and maintain, and the advertisers which interested in that demographic. As well, news providers better know the answer to this key question if they are to survive: what makes us unique?
Instead of cutting jobs in their newsrooms, they need to invest in new content ideas and excellent reporting so that they can offer something news headline and news aggregators can’t. Pushing readers online and charging them for the experience is going to require more attention to the content value of the news being produced than has ever been the case before.
Troy Media Columnist Terry Field is an associate professor and program chair of the journalism major in the Bachelor of Communication program at Mount Royal University, in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
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