How newspaper brands survive the meltdown

The UK election campaign is the latest reminder that a whole generation of pre-digital politicians still attaches disproportionate importance to print journalism. The obsession is nurtured by the country’s TV and radio news channels which devote many hours each day to reviewing the content of newspapers and screening the front pages.

So, British voters go to the polls knowing exactly how The Sun tabloid is urging its readers to vote – even though its circulation is 70% less than 25 years ago when it pompously claimed the credit for an election victory: “It’s The Sun wot won it”. But the “many see, few buy” state of UK newspapers (which actually might be missed by the millennials who never bought papers) helps to obscure the reality of their decline. They may be only in the first-stage of an increasingly painful disruption:

Disruption 1.0: Fragmentation.  The first-stage disruption was the hammer-blow fragmentation of a media market once dominated by newspapers. The technology which has given consumers more media than they can possibly consume has also given businesses virtually unlimited places to put advertising.

The realisation that print-centric media must adjust to “only” one revenue stream (like almost everyone else) is the wake-up call. But, despite Mary Meeker’s latest assertion (right) that print still gets much more advertising than is justified by its shrinking share of audience time, publishers are in denial.

Many of the UK’s national dailies are, for example, currently inflating their circulation figures by up to 20% with free copies, in vain efforts to compete for those vanishing ad revenues. They can’t get their heads or spreadsheets round the fact that spoilt-for-choice readers will increasingly pay only for distinctive content not for the freely-available general news. But that low-value news stubbornly continues to dominates the content – and costs – of most daily newspapers.

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