Bravo Business Day! You have taken that momentous first step into a strange new world that only a few newspapers around the globe have so far had the courage to confront.
On the face of it, what Business Day has decided doesn’t look all that spectacular. After all, it will still produce a newspaper that its readers can touch and hold and read. It will also have a presence online. No, actually, it’s the other way round.
What is momentous is the change in the mind-set that has taken place within the engine room of this newspaper.
And that quite simply, is deciding that Business Day will no longer be considered primarily a newspaper by those who produce and sell it, but rather as a multi-faceted digital product which, for the moment, will continue to produce a somewhat different newspaper, among many other things.
It is this change in mind-set that is to be applauded. While many newspapers, the world over, remain in denial, Business Day has taken a cold, hard look at what is happening in the world today with regard to the dissemination of news and information and elected to meet the challenges head on instead of hoping for that mother-of-all-miracles that would require the entire internet to self-destruct and to allow the printed newspaper to become relevant again.
Business Day‘s veteran editor, Peter Bruce, summed it up with self-deprecating honesty in his ‘Thick End of The Wedge’ coloumn in the newspaper this week: “Business Day will, very soon now, become a ‘digital first’ news brand. We will begin to publish what we know when we know it on our newly designed website first, and make the newspaper after that. Then, a few months after that we’ll wrap a mesh around the website and the applications (apps, they’re called) we have on iPhones and iPads and our stories — our product — will be for sale as BDlive.
“I say, ‘mesh’ but this is, in fact, the ‘paywall’ that many successful newspapers are building around their stories online. Some paywalls are watertight. BDlive is going to leak like crazy — there’ll be stories for free even before we ask you merely to register and more before we ask you to pay us anything.
“Unless we do this SA can kiss goodbye to its own stand-alone daily business newspaper. There are fewer than 10 worldwide in English. Canada doesn’t have one.
“No industry I know of has been hit on as many fronts as the newspaper industry in the past decade. The financial crisis has throttled advertising. The internet has changed the technology of news delivery beyond recognition.
“So abundant has information become that much of the time readers think they already know everything. It’s like a mining company being told the price of its commodity has halved, from now on it must only be retrieved from under the ocean floor and no one wants it anyway. In SA, platinum miners simply shut up shop until the market returns. Newspapers can’t do that.
“Yet for a long time we have indulged the insanity of producing a newspaper and trying to sell it at the same time as we place its entire content on the web and give it away for free. Many in my trade still think that makes sense in the long run. They’re brave with other people’s money.
“After 38 years in the trade I still ache for the smell of newsprint in the morning and fully embracing digital is my way of saving Business Day as a newspaper in the long term. In print, we will change dramatically, but over time — after a day of reporting on the web there is no point repeating it all the next morning. So expect not only a different and exciting newspaper in our digital future, but a different kind of newspaper — reflective, forward-looking and planned.
“Do I know what I am doing? No. But I have some wonderful colleagues who do, ” said Bruce.
One might wonder why Peter Bruce would be left heading up this new project when he openly admits that he actually doesn’t know what’s going on.
Well, I don’t believe him. Judging by the way he conducts himself on social media platforms, I would say Bruce is more tech-savvy than he lets on.
But even if he doesn’t want to become an aging geek, his understanding of what constitutes interesting news, opinion and the very specific sort of content that his readers demand, makes him the most important person in that whole setup. Content, after all, is king. Technology is just a tool.
What is happening is that Business Day has recognised that its most valuable asset is not a masthead on a piece of paper but rather a newsroom full of specialists who used to be called journalists, reporters, sub-editors and editors.
Who used to have a few deadlines every day.
Now, if Business Day is really serious about digital first, they will be called things like content providers, content managers and so forth and will have to get used to working on a deadline a minute as they provide a steady stream of information and finely customised packages of news, information and opinion for their subscribers.
Their work will entail far less guesswork and gutfeel because the very nature of digital is that is thrives on two way communication in which subscribers can choose precisely what it is they want to receive.
I have no doubt that BDlive has the human resources to be successful. After all, they have been doing things pretty darn well for ages now.
The biggest challenge, in my opinion, will be revenue generation. Because, if you think that the shift from printed product to digital takes a lot of mental adaptation, the move from selling newspaper advertising to digital revenue generation is massive by comparison.
The mind-set of those responsible for bringing in the sheckels will have to change radically.
They will have to realise that what is hapening in the marketing world is that advertising as we know it is becoming so incredibly focussed because of technology, that it will completely disappear.
As successful online publishers have found, revenue does not come from banner ads on websites – in fact, there should not be any websites but rather portals – but on the fact that B2B brands, particulary, are able to communicate directly with individual consumers.
Add to that the fact that B2C retail marketing is moving away from the good old and very expensive shotgun technique to focus rather on the point at which the consumer comes into contact with the brand.
Whether BDlive will succeed or not will most certainly be entirely dependant on their sales force completely understanding the online environment and particularly the way advertising as we know it, is changing so radically.
So, Bravo Business Day. Welcome to an exciting new world.