Opinion

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The medium (along with mags) is haemorrhaging audience in real terms, costs and working practices are out of date, editorial stances and posturing are reflective of the 1980s, not the 21st century.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

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