The media landscape, and the underlying economy which defines it, is making a mockery of strategies written up in more predictable times.
Media owners can’t force a result any more than estimate the extent that the COVID-19 response is having on the restrictions to business. A sort of patience, a philosophical preparation, is needed – waiting for something to drop yet readying their businesses to execute on it when it does.
We’ve found ourselves in a time when we are cheering governments on for taking control and abiding by the rules that they have put in place. This is not a natural fit for the media trade, having earned its place as the fourth estate through fearless reporting under literal autocracies.
The opposite of tyranny is a benevolent anarchy, and it’s a mindset we need to cultivate in order to balance out our social responsibility. Preferably not the anarchy of a Mad Max Thunderdome…but the realisation that one’s future and well-being will always rely on oneself and one’s close communities – We are the People indeed.
Emergence is a feature of this anarchy – responding to events as they emerge rather than creating inflexible structure that won’t adapt well to change. And this is perfect for these times where it is probably futile to plan in great detail for an immediate future when we still cannot estimate the proportion of our predicament.
This forces us to look inward, and ensure our house is in order to prepare for whatever comes next.
Grow your asset
At the end of the day (and for that matter, at the beginning and elevenses as well) – audience is the asset for the media owner. Thinking that each new reader incrementally adds a nano-cent to your webserver fees is extreme negative thinking; each reader represents potential. If you aren’t making enough money from advertising or readers yet – have faith. New commercial models are emerging. Technology is adapting all the time, and opportunity in the form of legislation can appear at any moment.
This is not to say that the global economy is going to suddenly and significantly revert to a barter economy. Cows prefer stables over garages, for one thing. But the fundamentals of trade remain. What most seasoned publishers know is that barter can grease the operational wheels for a considerably long time. You have value (inventory and reach) and brands have product. And services. And these can work for you or for your audience in the form of promotions
Be mindful of what you’re writing
The standout phenomenon of publishing in 2020 is that readers are far more engaged with digital media. News is a matter of economic and health security, and may be even one of life and death. With that has come a heightened sense of awareness when news is deemed alarmist, fake, fear-mongering or flippant.
In one of my roles, I’m able see direct feedback from readers to news that they receive, across a variety of publications. People are frustrated but sharply incisive – they are paying close attention more than before when there was no penalty for providing information that was nearly good enough – they can and will cancel publications rapidly if they perceive the execution of our craft to be irresponsible.
The model of our world and our shared values is one where decisive action is rewarded. However, sometimes not taking action is an action in itself.
Deep uncertainty is a feature we are sharing with our customers, competitors and nearly the whole globe. There is always a time to head out into the world and hack away at forests, but it may be time better spent sitting at home and sharpening one’s axe.
Derek Abdinor runs ACME, South Africa’s network for independent publishers and consults to established companies in optimising their digital businesses.
Want to continue this conversation on The Media Online platforms? Comment on Twitter @MediaTMO or on our Facebook page. Send us your suggestions, comments, contributions or tip-offs via e-mail to email@example.com.