October is here – horror, blood and chaos. So, as a natural segue: how about Newsweek going all digital in 2013?!
Reorganization, layoffs and abhorrently low wages are part of the industry’s steady state. It’s a volatile market – and even our heroes get the ax.
“Currently, 39 percent of Americans say they get their news from an online source, according to a Pew Research Center study released last month. In our judgment, we have reached a tipping point at which we can most efficiently and effectively reach our readers in all-digital format. This was not the case just two years ago. It will increasingly be the case in the years ahead.” – Newsweek CEO Baba Shetty and Editor Tina Brown.
Now that we’re four-plus years into the recession and have witnessed the tangential rise of social media, we are really starting to experience some separation within the publishing industry. Beyond the success VS failure paradigm, big name publishers are stretching – some, successfully - to reach new revenue streams:
- The New York Times zeroed in on a porous pay-wall strategy, launched a series of blogs and has otherwise stayed true to its roots.
- Conde Nast shuttered a slew of magazines early on; only to snatch up tech and social focused companies like ArsTechnica.com and Reddit (released in 2011). Conde Nast’s “The New Yorker” was one of the first publications from the old guard to adopt a mobile approach.
- The Atlantic Monthly Group reorganized to “think like a Silicon Valley startup”, launching an aggressive digital strategy for its magazine and spinning off Quartz (a new business journal, utilizing a responsive layout for optimal viewing on your mobile phone or tablet).
These moves are inspiring because they require massive reorganization, courageous leadership and the commitment of significant resources to unknown markets – all during periods of slow growth and redlines.
So what’s driving the shift? If it weren’t obvious enough, circulation numbers are down and mobile readership is on its way up. Advertisers are looking for new ways to connect. Here are a few more facts & figures from Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism:
- 50% of adult Americans have a mobile connection to the internet (smart-phone or tablet)
- 1/3 of Americans read news on a mobile device and this demographic is more likely to pay for a digital subscription
- 46% of Americans don’t like to see any advertising; beyond this group, respondents expressed a preference for ad viewing within print publications and desktop versions.
- Interaction rates for most ads remain abysmal, with 40% of mobile ad clicks occurring by accident or click fraud.
Also, by way of generally acknowledged public opinion…
- Social media has traditional media beat on “breaking news"
- Bloggers have traditional media beat on local and/or niche reporting
- There is a work-around for just about everything these days. Consumers are in control. If a consumer doesn’t want to view advertising, they don’t have to – they can skip, block or just ignore the ad. If readers don’t want to commit to a pay-wall, they don’t have to – they can find another website that has re-blogged the content or dig for a free download. Emphasis in both cases on want; pay-walls and advertising can be effective, but the content has to be extraordinary.
When we join all of this with an enormous signal-to-noise problem for both content providers and advertisers, it looks like curtains for traditional publishers.
What’s the key to survival?
Whether we’re talking a big-time publisher looking for new ways to make money, or an independent publisher looking for growth and a sustainable business model, I think the solution is dead simple:
- Publish unique, genuine and generally awesome content. Content will draw your audience close. Content is your lifeblood.
- Serve your readers, first. Partners second. If content keeps you alive, a passionate and engaged audience will support your growth. If your audience is bought in and there is a real community gathering around your content, they will follow you (and your associated business) wherever you go.
- Acknowledge mobile. Have a plan, especially if you serve anyone under the age of 30.
- Diversify revenue streams. If you understand your collective audience’s wants and needs, you can meet them just about anywhere. Be smart and focus on projects where there is intuitive crossover to content and an unobtrusive business model. Retail / merchandise, special-edition print publications, e-books, video, syndicated content, events, social networks, mobile apps, etc.
- Never betray your purpose. We all hate a sell-out.
Execution isn’t easy - but it can be done. And I’d say: watch the fringe of the publishing industry. The scrappy upstarts, niche dwellers and independent publishers are already paving the way.
On my watch list
- Pando Daily – the investor-backed online publisher under the helm of Sarah Lacy is still fresh to the scene but they are attempting a different angle on tech reporting. Unlike many blog / online magazine hybrids, Pando writers are paid and an emphasis is put on detailed, multi-source reporting and editorials. Pando’s writers call out other writers that republish press releases and they are quick to flag outright instances of cronyism. Pando Daily is still very SF/SV and NYC focused but they are trying to stretch. Watch out for their live fireside chats too.
- NSFW Corp – self-described as “the future of journalism (with jokes)”; NSFW Corp exists behind a $3/month pay-wall, dishing up sharp and snarky journalism on The “Sex and Science” Desk, The “War Nerd” Desk, and The “Feel Smarter” Desk. They’ve nailed a specific voice and will attract loyal readers because of it. Despite that pay-wall, they’ve also made their content shareable by giving members 10 opportunities to share an article.
- Refinery29 – “fashionista” is not a word that gets tossed around the Verge Pipe Media office too often; however, this publisher (or are they e-commerce) is doing something cool for fashionistas and they are making lots of money doing it. The company’s content and retail pages intertwine seamlessly. Refinery29 reportedly pulls in millions of dollars each quarter in e-commerce revenue and they’ve recently raised a $13 million dollar round of funding.
- McSweeney’s – McSweeney’s has been around for a tick but if you haven’t been paying attention to their growth, now is a good time to check back in. The Internet Tendency is now just one vertical in a stable of transmedia products and sub-organizations. In addition to the online column, McSweeney’s publishes printed quarterlies and books, runs literary contests and pushes content to a rich-media (but dead simple) iPhone / iPad app. Oh, and they have a handful of literary non-profits under the banner too.
Who is on your list?
Author: Meredith Singer is Head of Ops & Co-Creative at Verge Pipe Media. Verge Pipe Media assists public institutions, enterprises and the non-profit sector with Imaginative Inbound Marketing strategies + campaigns. We also have a development team chock full of Marvelous Mobile Migrators, poised to help transition our clients into a mobile + social world with custom software, iOS and Android mobile apps.