Today’s news media industry is like the White House Harry Truman moved into in 1945 . . . iconic but in trouble. The White House at that time would not have passed inspection. What to do? Renovate or tear-down and rebuild? One path promises continuity with compromise, the a other a fresh and perhaps more relevant if disruptive start.
This is the analogy presented by Earl J. Wilkinson, CEO on the International News Media Association (INMA) in the recently published News Media Outlook 2016. The report analyzes current issues and solutions in the global news industry and points ahead to what news media companies are and need to accomplish to be successful in a disrupted marketplace.
Well, as we’ve seen, in both cases the choice was to renovate. Wilkinson concludes that news media companies have tacked on at least a dozen new business models in an attempt to be relevant to changing market conditions, all while giving up none of their current print operations. Citing recent Nielsen and Scarborough data, Wilkinson observed that 44% of those reading a newspaper in the past month did so on mobile or web devices. In fact fully 17% of the newspaper audience was only digital. Adding these renovated digital rooms arguably has been an exercise in compromise.
Are news media companies effectively grafting digital solutions onto their print paradigm? Not so much. There is a great reluctance, as Wilkinson puts it when examining the required transformations, to “confront ‘truths’ — or conclusions — to their business model. This includes what drives real value.”
And finding that value and nurturing it is ultimately what Wilkinson argues news media companies must do to be relevant. Does this mean going “audience first” in the sense you put your content on the devices and platforms where your current and prospective audiences hang out? If so, can you align your business model, cost structure and revenue streams with that reality? Or do you conclude that while digital’s impact is growing, print is here to stay and news media companies are better off harvesting those print dollars while they’re still to be had? To quote Yogi Bera, when news media companies come to that fork in the road, they take it. But Wilkinson advises, “We break down the advantages and disadvantages and ultimately conclude that publishers are not losing their distribution chain and the partnerships are situationally advantageous.” Bottom line, if content is your product and your business is to put that product in front of your customers, better to deliver where they are. And these destinations increasingly are digital and have different requirements than traditional print models.