This article, by Jordan Kurzweil, originally appeared on TechCrunch on 2/25/12.
[TechCrunch] Editor’s note: Jordan Kurzweil is Co-CEO of Independent Content, an agency that helps media companies launch new digital products and businesses. Prior to starting Independent Content Jordan worked at AOL running original programming, and News Corp bringing its traditional brands to digital. You can follow him on Twitter @jordankurzweil.
It’s been said before, but it needs saying again (and again and again): PRINT IS DEAD. Across the publishing industry, year-over-year declines in revenue, subscriptions and circulation, are well documented. Yes, there have been a few quarters of blood-stanching flatness (yay!), but – you heard it here first (or few weeks ago from The Annenberg School, or over the summer from Clay Shirky) – print periodicals are going to go away – forced out of this world by the march of technology and changing tastes, and replaced by new powerhouse brands – TMZ, Buzzfeed and HuffPo to name a few — which are poised to own the future, because they know how to adapt to (and even anticipate!) evolving user behavior. As John Paton, CEO of one of the largest newspaper companies in the U.S., put it recently “‘You’re gonna miss us when we’re gone’ is not much of a business model.”
Just this week, Gannett gave us a stunning reminder of just how little it understands the world it lives (and dies) in, and how myopically it views its business when it announced its $100M bet on establishing paywalls in all 80 of its local newspaper markets. A gambit predicated on “the public’s strong desire for local news and in readers’ longtime trust in Gannett’s papers,” according to Gannett’s CEO Gracia Martore. Oh my. The paywall, whether for Gannett or other publishers, is a finger in the dyke, a cover-up for tectonic shifts in their businesses. For Gannett, local paper audiences are old (that’s what “longtime trust” means), and may well age out of relevance before Gannett’s gosh-darned paywall gets erected. And where’s the proof that the public wants local news? Readership is declining, local news website traffic is infinitesimal, and even pure digital plays like Patch can’t seem to find readers or revenue. The fact is, the thirst for local news can be sated by a single hometown blog, run pretty much by a single entrepreneurial blogger (granted they’d be very busy – and underpaid).
What can Old Print do to survive?
To use a trite metaphor (or two) – stop rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, grow a pair, and change your businesses. Pivot out of the corner and reclaim your heavyweight title. RUMBLE, Old Man, RUMBLE:
1. Face reality:
– The audiences of traditional print brands on paper and pixel are aging.
– Digital upstarts are capturing the new audiences, and stealing your least loyal current readers.
– The cost structures of Old Print companies are out of whack with the times.
– New technology is further commoditizing content, and fragmenting audience.
– In-house digital innovation at Old Print companies is largely non-existent, stymied by outmoded, editorial-first ego at the top, and fearful protectionism of current revenue sources: print subscriptions, ad pages and banner impressions.
2. Start thinking like startups.