Chris Botha agrees print media is going through a very tough time but he believes there is a lot that can be done to keep it afloat.
Remember Kodak? The company used to make cameras and camera film. Yup, and it even invented the digital camera in 1975. So when Sony first launched commercial digital photography in 1981, you would have thought that Kodak would have been perfectly geared to pioneer and ride this new wave. Not the case. They hung on to old business principles all the way to January 2012 when they eventually closed down. They were a classic example of management’s inability to do something about a world changing around them.
This story sounds familiar.
A lot has been said and written about the demise of newspapers and magazines. Look at the most recent AdEx figures (ad revenue) or the latest All Media and Products Survey (Amps) numbers (audience) and you can see where this ship is headed. These two fundamentals of any media channel (ad revenue and audience) are in serious danger, and if something is not done to remedy this situation, it will mean the end of the format. This is something no one wants.
Ad spend in print over the past three years has been basically static… at best. The picture for magazines is even worse. Magazine revenue is officially in decline and has been for the past three years. Titles have closed down faster than you can snap your fingers. Newspapers are hanging on by the skin of their teeth. A closer look at daily newspapers shows publications like The Star and Beeld have lost, depending on the month, between 3% and 30% in advertising revenue from run of paper (ROP) year on year.
From a readership and circulation perspective, everyone is down… and down a lot. Look at FHM, which had its glory days in 2005 selling 160 000 copies of ‘100 Sexiest’ to 2014 when the magazine closed down. It was a sad day for the medium.
And we all know why. I think the Oscar Pistorius trial is a prime example of where the challenge lies for newspapers and magazines. Every single day of the trial is broadcast live on television and radio, transcribed and commented on online media and social media, and dissected at great length. The next morning, the newspapers ‘break’ the story. By the time the papers discuss yesterday’s ‘episode’, the next instalment of the drama has already unfolded. Why would a consumer buy a newspaper? What does it offer that one cannot get online?
It is not a pretty picture, but what is anyone doing about it?
From a circulation perspective, we need to find a solution, as this is the fundamental problem to the second challenge of ad revenue. Some newspapers in Europe have decided to ditch the cover price and distribute their titles for free. Sure, you lose revenue, but you can increase distribution, circulation and readership in the hope that ad revenue follows. Some newspapers in Japan started printing family photos from holidays and birthdays, thus reigniting local interest in the paper. I often believe that what editors believe to be relevant, and what readers know to be relevant, can be vastly different.
Do these steps work? Will it change the fortunes of South African newspapers? I don’t know. What is happening right now is not working.
Let’s talk money. As newspaper revenues decline daily, there is very little perceived effort to get additional, new, or any form of revenue for that matter. I have to give credit at this juncture to Trevor Ormerod and the team at Times Media Group for ‘selling’ page two of the Sunday Times. Quite frankly, it amazes me that it took them so long to do it. Newspapers and magazines need to become more aggressive about what they are willing to sell. Page two is arguably one of the best read areas of the newspaper, and will definitely be in high demand from advertisers.
I’ve never quite understood why print has been so reluctant to sell its prime real estate. Imagine a television station saying that they have massive audiences in the beginning of the show, but won’t take advertising in this time slot? Inconceivable. Television will hike the rates for that specific channel and time frame, and sell out inventory day in and day out.
With today’s technology it means that newspapers can play around a lot more with their settings. Sell the front page, sell the street posters, sell editorial. Editors should be willing to embrace brands that attempt to be more adventurous in their media types. This creates innovation as people push the boundaries. I would also urge media owners to listen more closely to their sales forces as they bring new ideas to the table – they are, after all, the people on the ground.
This story was first published in the July 2014 issue of The Media magazine.
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