Newspapers: introspective and lost in time

In this guest post, Dave May gives an advertiser’s perspective on the woes at Australia’s newspaper publishers

I’ve worked at a number of organisations, most notably Jetstar, where print was a primary medium. We spent significant sums of money, into the tens of millions of dollars with News Limited and Fairfax.

I now work at an organisation that spends only a few hundred thousand dollars a year in that medium. And struggling to find the ROI to justify even that modest level of spend.

I think the strikes at Fairfax last week, show just how introspective and lost in time print media is.

Both the the employer and employees are arguing about which song the band should play next, after the audience has left. While I have sympathy for the workers, and sympathy for the management, it’s the model that’s broken.

At Mumbrella360 yesterday I heard a publisher ask a panel, if they considered it disrespectful for media agencies and clients to demand editorial integration. Why don’t clients respect the integrity of the publication? Readers want quality editorial? Respect that and advertise. Sorry, but it comes down to commerce. Take the money and meet the needs well. Or don’t. That’s your decision. But shouting at the waves and commanding them to respect you won’t actually achieve anything.

Every time I hear the printed media comment right now, it’s about why the world is being mean to them. And if the whole world would just be that little bit nicer to them, then everything would be ok…

Ultimately whether Fairfax outsources its printing to New Zealand or New Caledonia, taking cost out of print now is like applying a band aid to a broken leg. Railing about how difficult advertisers are, and how demanding they are, is like saying Facebook won’t happen. It already has.

The medium (along with mags) is haemorrhaging audience in real terms, costs and working practices are out of date, editorial stances and posturing are reflective of the 1980s, not the 21st century. And the dispute is just another reason to reconsider whether it’s worthwhile advertising at all in printed media. I like the medium. I advocate the medium everywhere. But the audience is going (and that’s without considering the ones given away with your McMuffin and your flight).

The future for publishers of print is masterfully bleak unless they can reconcile how to better integrate digital and paper, and find a new revenue model that works – that is after they have found out that the paywall won’t work and digital display won’t work at the prices they want.

Without a brilliant idea they will be in a lot more trouble very quickly.

Take the best 50 minds in this country. Minds that don’t work in print today. Lock them away for a month. And try and get them to recreate what Google did for AdWords for print and digital. Print has to become the tail and digital the dog. And there needs to be a better way to commercialise it than paywalls and digital display.

We just haven’t thought of it yet.

Dave May is the CMO of iSelect


  1. Peter Sandor
    7 Jun 12
    10:22 am

  2. Great Article Dave!

    I wonder how the Herald Sun in Melbourne is feeling now that their recent attempt at a pay wall is failing and the browser traffic they once had is leaving their site for other free news sites. And all the while their printed newspaper circulation is reducing rapidly. Sad that they can’t find a more lateral or creative approach.

  3. Mark D
    7 Jun 12
    10:58 am

  4. Well, Sunday week ago the Sunday Mail ran the News Alive app which goes a long way towards bringing newspapers into the 21st century. It contained augmented reality elements and additional digital content.

    I can see this as having huge potential to draw a younger audience. However it wasn’t repeated this week, in Qld at least. Does anyone know if News Limited are going to continue with this idea? I read a lot of disappointed reviews on the app store.

  5. ...and
    7 Jun 12
    11:07 am

  6. Was waiting for the insight or solution, this was nothing more than another person stating the obvious but not really understating the complex position these businesses are in and offering anyway forward.

  7. Jim
    7 Jun 12
    12:13 pm

  8. I think you could apply this argument to Australian Culture in general..we talk it up big, slow on the uptake and our best minds..the minds you should be locking in a room for a month piss off because the options for growth are shockingly limited. Still we managed to Produce Bikie that was a cultural entertainment highlight..was it not?

  9. NK
    7 Jun 12
    1:10 pm

  10. I agree with ….and – this doesn’t really say anything that hasn’t already been said, or suggest any solution. From the other side of the argument, I wonder – if advertisers don’t think they’re getting their money’s worth from putting in print ads, then where do they believe they DO get their money’s worth? Because I’ve never met anyone who pays attention to online ads. And most people I know now use PVRs and fast-forward TV ads. And show me someone who sits through a 5-minute block of radio ads without switching stations and I’ll be impressed…

  11. paul the freelance writer
    7 Jun 12
    2:13 pm

  12. I’ve said it before: get on a tram in peak hour. Everyone is on devices. No-one even reads that free newspaper anymore let alone one they’ve bought. Print is dead, so advertisers will have no alternative but to embrace online.

    Unless Russian hackers kill the internet. Have you closed your LinkedIn account yet?

  13. zumabeach
    7 Jun 12
    2:23 pm

  14. Mr May worked for Jetstar, for god’s sake … he probably thinks Alan Joyce knows what he’s doing turning Qantas into a similar bottom feeder airline … the problem remains that no one, besides those who sell products directly through digital platforms, has worked out how to make any sort of real money using the technology … when was it that you actually clicked on and read an internet ad, let alone acted on it? … Never.

  15. Rushdie
    7 Jun 12
    5:36 pm

  16. Digital and paper can easily be integrated very successfully by simply….hang on a minute, why should I tell you guys? Nick off all of you.

  17. jean cave
    7 Jun 12
    7:40 pm

  18. Ads/film etc. always show papers being read in bed on a day off. But quite often the best bits are in the comments from a digital point of view. So make the papers weekly and invite SundayMorningComments online to a TVnet programme. Doesmdo that already?

  19. jean cave
    7 Jun 12
    7:41 pm

  20. *does someone do?*

  21. G
    7 Jun 12
    10:28 pm

  22. Nice stuff. But slightly daft to think that anyone in print is so utterly moronic they’re battling on regardless. I worked in print for 15 years (now in digital) and there wasn’t a day went passed that we didn’t consider the things that’s suggested in the article. Good print will always have a future, but like so many things – Kodak film, travel agents, video stores, broadsheet newspapers, retail (to a degree), petrol-powered cars (hopefully) – it’s simply being surpassed by a better, more efficient technology.

  23. Silly, silly
    8 Jun 12
    2:03 pm

  24. The premise that advertising should be allowed to influence editorial is what killed print in the first place.

    It was great for the advertisers when it was all hidden, but now the mob can (and do) out this particular line of bullshit.

    And the value of the editorial collapses because, lets face it, nobody trusts ad-people, they lie for a living – and there goes the medium.

    New media isn’t just succeeding because it covers issues MSM ignores – it’s succeeding because it is only as strong as the trust placed in it by readers and therefore must maintain high levels of integrity.

    Would you continue to read this particular site if you learned it engaged in secret deals to influence you?

  25. Gezza
    8 Jun 12
    2:28 pm

  26. This is little more than a rant. He starts by saying he spent tens of millions of dollars on print at Jetstar – one assumes it delivered a tolerable ROI or why would he have kept doing it. Now he is with a non print advertiser – and he bags it out. Surely its a simple case of horses for courses. Or maybe he asked the sales reps to guarantee favourable coverage of his new employer, and the reps and editorial team told him where to shove it. If you want to buy favourable editorial go to commercial radio – they will be happy to sell out – I mean help out.

  27. Devil's advocaat
    8 Jun 12
    3:19 pm

  28. So the future of print is digital.

    Interesting idea.

  29. KP
    8 Jun 12
    3:28 pm

  30. Yes…..what G said!
    I’m ex print as well, we all saw it coming. You got out — or you didn’t!
    There is still time — do it!

  31. Logic
    8 Jun 12
    3:28 pm

  32. This is rich …

  33. Tim Nicholas
    8 Jun 12
    4:55 pm

  34. Everything had it’s day. Print’s was 1960s-1980’s. Shame it’s ending but it is.
    Print proprietors can stop gnashing their teeth and start revolutionising their attitute.
    I read about a new online service today – looks like the prototype of what the future of consuming content will look like – it’s called Rebel Mouse. Check it out:

  35. Belinda B
    9 Jun 12
    5:42 am

  36. Article is really a waste of pixels. If you don’t understand ROI and media integration yes you’ll spend 10’s of millions and kill your companies bottom line.

  37. version
    9 Jun 12
    7:11 am

  38. I work for a media agency and the support the right for news editorial to be free from the influence of advertisers. I am more than happy for integration between entertainment and advertising.

    Quality journalism plays an important role in society and its independence should be maintained.

  39. Matt
    9 Jun 12
    12:08 pm

  40. This article is interesting, whether people agree with it or not. Clearly print media is slowing in terms of the cash cow it once was. However, there will be room (there are plenty of people who prefer the physical touch of a decent paper) and there are still those ingrained in the newspaper culture. Having a student website with limited funding, it is critical that my own organisation is effective online. At the same time, we expect to produce a print run in the near future, because it can reach some of those in our target market that we otherwise could not reach.

  41. Missing it a bit
    9 Jun 12
    2:08 pm

  42. Wtf is ISelect???

  43. Belinda B
    10 Jun 12
    9:52 am

  44. Didn’t Jetstar go digital and fail?. So it’s really about intelligent mix of media right. Not not one or the other but its about one V the other. Sure print is slowing, this is not news its a shake and re-bake article .

  45. Kevin
    11 Jun 12
    10:09 pm

  46. Just reading a story in The Oz today about how the arse has fallen out of the digital advertising market in the US. Oh dear!

  47. anon-e-mouse
    12 Jun 12
    11:28 am

  48. Big comments from a guy who works for a company owned by ninemsn and seems to be a sponsor of everything that isn’t commercially sponsored on Ch 9.

    Anyone else see this as a thinly veiled corporate sales pitch or was it just me??

  49. Font-of-Insight!
    12 Jun 12
    2:35 pm

  50. Mate, the insight was uncanny – of the ‘planet earth is blue and there’s nothing I can do’ variety.

    …and BTW paywall works quite nicely for some, but you have to be a quality publication. I can see why that would scare mass-media-model obsessed ninemsn types. The bogans just don’t like subscribing do they?

  51. Dave may
    12 Jun 12
    6:08 pm

  52. Belinda b – yes Jetstar did go digital. But no to my recollection didn’t fail. In fact being the most profitable airline in Australia and the largest LCC in Asia pacific by revenue isn’t what many people would call failure either.

    To ‘font of insight’ take your point, but 1) getting the AFR to work as a paywall is different to getting the herald sun to work as a paywall… I think the free online competition on sport/entertainment is very fierce. Indeed the subscription model can work for niche audiences I think 2) my main point is that it needs minds from outside to help solve it because when your stuck in a problem it’s hard to see a way out…

    Why does everyone get so defensive on these things?

  53. Belinda b
    13 Jun 12
    8:20 am

  54. Maybe Jstar would have been a little or a lot more profitable if we are honest with ourselves. To your point yes outside thinking is required. Interesting the readership of fairfax online is booming because news have put a paywall on their titles. The underlying factor for newspapers in general are in decline / death of classified readership attraction and of course revenues. Same for Telstra Yelllow Pages. Back then they kept their yellow pages thinking instead of google thinking and hang on to that dumb hat until death came knocking. I’ve got fairfax shares, several thousand, and right now they are worth little more than a good lunch. So I waiting for clever thinking.

  55. Font-of-Insight!
    13 Jun 12
    10:24 am

  56. Dave – defensive maybe, but you have a lot of passionate, articulate people who value what they do in society. It’s not just about the revenue for them – and they are thoroughly sick of being beaten over the head with MARKET REALITIES!!! when consumption of written and electronic news has sky rocketed in the digital age.

    Massive increase in demand/massive drop in revenue – sounds like a business problem to me but it always seems to be the ‘out-of-touch’ editorial that cops the blame. The punters love us but hate the marketing and sales models. It gets old, mate!

    I wont insult your intelligence and say that there aren’t extreme dinosauristic tendencies and frustrating inertia among my bookish colleagues, but some of us are also carefully and intelligently trying to fashion new product that will attract sales dollars and also not scare off the subscribers – and are having success. In that sense, digital is actually growing up and being much like a conventional media product (here’s a radical plan!) satisfying the needs of the consumers, developing expectation and loyalty and then selling against that. As nearly every business that is thriving on the net is pretty conventional at its heart (I mean all Jetstar and the web-based LLCs are doing is just being a boring old airline except thru the net, like amazon the boring mail-order retailer before it) I think the future of newspaper-like organisations is to just be a boring old newspaper, just adapted heavily to the net.

    Won’t heppen overnight but will heppen – and running around saying “youse are all farked” isn’t helping, Dave.

  57. Dave may
    14 Jun 12
    11:08 am

  58. Font of insight. If my point was that newspapers is that newspapers are farked, I think those that know me well enough would support me in saying that I woul have actually said it.

    In one of my first paras above I say I have sympathy with management and editorial. And to be honest, my point about editorial and 360 was more directed to mags than print. I think there is a lot more scope in say a women’s weekly mag or a monthly men’s health style mag to find a venn of consumer, advertiser and editorial common ground than there is in egn of the daily telegraph or the age.

    That said I believe Jetstar is a fundamentally different business than qantas, just as amazon is different to mail order. It’s pricing, customer, promotional and product strategies are fundamentally different to their traditional counterparts.

    Some very very bright individuals, and brighter that my mind are working very hard on the issue. Including some people I know and have the highest regard for. I just think it will take an extra leap and something external to make the change that will see the businesses I want to succeed, succeed.

  59. Font-of-Insight!
    14 Jun 12
    12:28 pm

  60. …fundamentally different?

    Surely there are major similarities too – bums on seats and all that? Obviously, the mechanics of the business will be different, but the whole point of the exercise is a sold plane ticket or a good getting to a customer at an acceptable price and timeframe.

    I guess what we are grappling with here is the central bone of contention since there has been media, and that is there ain’t much point if you can’t make it pay.

  61. Dave may
    15 Jun 12
    8:28 pm

  62. I know when I’m beaten.

    But if I use your logic then nrl=afl=soccer=gridiron.

    Isn’t the point of all those games to score using a ball?

  63. Nevis
    16 Jun 12
    8:14 am

  64. Nothing can be done about products that refuse ignore the customer. And the customer does not like these products. NYT will get to a new basis of finances because it stayed with the need for a really great news product. Here in Australia we have had bilge for years.