Dorian Benkoil senior consultant at Teeming Media. An award-winning journalist and editor, he was a foreign correspondent for AP and Newsweek, and international and managing editor for ABCNews.com. At ABC News he moved to the business side, handling sales integration and business development, before joining Fairchild Publications as General Manager for their Internet division, becoming editorial director for mediabistro.com, then a consultant for Teeming Media in New York. He graduates this year with an MBA from Baruch's Zicklin school of business. Learn more about him at Benkoil.com or his blog - MediaFlect.com.
Robert Cauthorn is a journalist, former vice president of digital
media at the San Francisco Chronicle, and was the third recipient of
the Newspaper Association of America's prestigious Digital Pioneer
Award. He launched one of the first five newspapers web sites in the
world and is generally considered to have delivered the first
profitable newspaper web site in 1995. Cauthorn has been in the middle
of the transition from old media to new and is recognized as
frank-talking critic when he believes newspapers stray for their
mission. In mid-2004 he became the president of CityTools, LLC a new
media startup based in San Francisco.
Ben Compaine has divided his career between the academic world and private business. He was a journalist when manual typewriters were considered state of the art, but also led the conversion of his college newspaper to cold type. He has started and managed weekly newspapers. His dissertation at Temple University in 1977 was about the changing technologies that were going to unsettle the landscape of the staid and low profit newspaper industry. Since then he has focused his research and consulting on examining the forces and trends at work in the information industries. Among his most well-known works (and the name of his blog) is "Who Owns the Media?".
Vin Crosbie has been called "the Practical Futurist" by Folio, the trade journal of the American magazine industry. Editor & Publisher magazine, the trade journal of the American newspaper industry, devoted the Overview chapter of executive research report Digital Delivery of News: A How-to Guide for Publishers to his work. His speech to the National Association of Broadcasters annual conference was one of 24 orations selected by a team of speech professors for publication in the reference book Representative American Speeches 2004-2005. He has keynoted the Seybold Publishing Strategies conference in 2000; co-chaired and co-moderated last year's annual Beyond the Printed Word the digital publishing conference in Vienna; and regularly speaks at most major online news media conferences. He is currently in residence as adjunct professor of visual and interactive communications and senior consultant on executive education in new media at Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, and meanwhile is managing partner of the media consulting firm of Digital Deliverance LLC in Greenwich, Connecticut.
About this blog
Two forces have shattered the news media. Technology is the first. Although media technology is undergoing its greatest change since the day in 1440 when Johannes Gutenberg first inked type, for more than ten years now the news industry has mistaken new technologies merely as electronic ways to distribute otherwise printed or analog products. Estrangement is the second. The news media has lost touch with people's needs and interests during the past 30 years, as demonstrated by rapidly declining readerships of newspapers and audiences of broadcast news. How we rebuild news media appropriate to the 21st Century from the growing rubble of this industry is the subject of this group weblog.
Have you ever wanted to take what you now know and go back ten years in time? I saw it done on Wednesday.
The American Press Institute, a training and think-tank institute for the American newspaper industry, warped time when presenting the second phase of its Newspaper Next project to transform that industry.
The project is being run by Innosight, the consulting company founded by Clayton Christensen (pointing at one of his slides above), the Harvard Business School professor who wrote the book, The Innovator's Dilemma about the troubles established companies have facing disruptive change in the markets. Because newspapers are facing such a change, the API hired Innosight to help it.
Innosight’s presentation on Wednesday basically consisted of two parts: An explanation of what tends to happen when established companies face disruptive change and basically two recommendations what the newspaper industry should do.
The Tribune Co and its Los Angeles Times newspaper are in the news again today. This time it’s about the paper’s publisher, Jeffrey M. Johnson, who has become something of a newsroom hero in standing up to the parent company by refusing to initiate ordered budget cuts. This new profile comes after a flurry of articles (and here and here) in recent weeks about pressures on the Tribune Co to sell the Times. Moreover, the situation at the Times is a subset of turmoil at the Tribune Co., similar to that which resulted in the dismemberment of Knight-Ridder.
The unrest at the Times, however, is being repeated at large and medium size dailies all across the country. The underlying facts are undisputable. The remedies are less obvious.
The facts, which have been repeated frequently here and elsewhere, are that:
1) Daily newspaper circulation has been on a long term and steady decline. From a high point in the 1980s of about 63 million daily copies, the most recent count reports a total of 45.4 million copies, a decline of about 28%, even as population and households increased over that period. Some papers and some areas have fared better than others, but the trend overall is down.
In the case at hand of the L.A. Times, circulation, which was more than 1 million daily 10 years ago, was down “only” 17%, to 852,000 this year. Again, this despite a 12% growth in population since 1990 in Los Angees County alone.
2) Advertising is flat. Adjusted for inflation, newspaper advertising revenues increased only 7.3% between 1994 and 2004. That’s a compound annual growth rate of 0.7%. Total advertising in all media, on the other hand, grew by 49% in that period. Newspapers accounted for 27% of total advertising in 1985, 23% in 1995 and about 17% today.
With lower circulation and an expanding list of alternative vehicles for reaching their audiences, advertisers have been switching their budgets elsewhere, from direct mail to local cable to the Internet.
So, what’s a publisher to do? Jack Klunder, senior vice president for circulation at The Los Angeles Times, commented that Johnson was not against retrenchment: “Jeff has never said that we don’t need to make intelligent cost cuts. The challenge is, How do you grow your business when you have years of a stagnant or even declining revenue picture? You can’t grow your business just by cutting costs.”
Indeed. But Klunder’s statement leaves out a big detail: What is their business? Does he refer to the business of printing and distributing a newspaper? Or does he mean the business of gathering news and other information and making it available on a variety of platforms to multiple audiences?
True, businesses cannot grow by cutting—but they can survive. And right now newspaper publishers need a strategy to grow their business while transitioning from a reliance on high profit paper-based models. They will never again be able to have long term growth in the newspaper. But they can thrive if the cuts in expenditures on printing presses and circulation departments are accompanied by maintaining the capability for providing content about the local area in which they are well known. And offering this by whatever mechanisms some customers want to use: Web sites, Podcasts, Vodcasts, mobile devices, or telepathy for that matter. That will keep some—hopefully enough-- advertisers as customers as well.
I don’t know if the Tribune Co. has been intelligent about the cuts they want to make in LA or elsewhere. What we do know is that cuts are inevitable given the shrinking traditional newspaper. The hard part is how to make that part of a plan for regeneration.
Let’s peek under the blanket because there's a lot of people in the dark there. A widespread misconception is that taking printed or broadcast content and putting it online or wireless is new-media. This misconception blankets even many new-media executives.
No, taking printed or broadcast content and putting it online or wireless is as much new-media as microwaving hamburgers is new cuisine. It’s just the same old beef reheated a new way.
The reason this misconception is so widespread is that most people, including most media executives, are myopic. They might see the superficial changes underway but rarely the seismic changes that underlie and motivate the surface. They can’t perceive the forest because all the trees get in the way.
But the verb evolve probably better describes what’s going on than motivate.
Media ever evolves towards greater, more articulate distribution. Technology drives the evolution.
Note that the evolution has two dimensions: Greater. And more articulate.However, most media executives still see only one dimension: the greater distribution (i.e., greater reach). They fail to notice the newer dimension: More articulate distribution. They're conditioned not to see it.
And why not? The first period of evolution led to the greatest distribution.
Gutenberg’s invention of moveable type allowed economical distribution of books, newspapers, and broadsides. The later invention of rotary presses, powered by steam and then electrical engines, allowed their mass production. Morse’s telegraph extended the reach of text. Marconi’s radio extended the reach of words. Farnsworth’s television extended the reach of moving pictures. By 1990, any content could reach anywhere in the world within 24 hours in the physical form of print or instantaneously when telegraphed or broadcast.
But the second period of media evolution is now underway, and it will lead to the most articulate distribution. That means the ability to distribute to each person those pieces of content that are most pertinent to that person’s unique mix of generic and individual interests. It doesn’t mean distributing the same package of content to everyone -- be that package an album of music, a printed newspaper or news magazine, programs in a broadcast schedule, or even an intact broadcast program.
As with geologic periods, there has been occurring a brief overlap between these two periods of media evolution. We are in that overlap.
I was leading an editors conference for a small newspaper publishing group last week. The objective was to think about strategies for the newspapers as well as their online components. To get things going I presented an ersatz IQ quiz to the 60 or so participants. Below are the questions. The answers and discussion follow. Few of the editors last week had the correct response to more than two of the five questions.
1. In the last quarter, MediaNews Group derived 13% of its profit from online. What % of its revenue was from online?
2. What is the annual quarter over quarter rate of increase for online revenue of newspaper publishers?
3. In 1950 about 2% of GDP went toward advertising. What was the % in 2005?
e) What’s GDP?
4. Craig Newmark got the idea for Craigslist when he was classified ad manager of what Northern California newspaper? Extra credit: In what year?
a) San Francisco Chronicle
b) Oakland Tribune
c) Sacramento Bee
d) San Jose Mercury-News
e) None of the above
5. Which newspaper group created the first consumer-oriented online news product in the U.S.? Extra credit: In what year? (+/- one good enough)
a) NY Times Co.
b) Dow Jones
f) Tribune Co.
1. a) I read recently that NewsMedia (a privately held company) claimed that 5% of its revenue was from online. (Unfortunately I didn’t make note of the source and I have been able to find it again. If anyone can provide a link, please leave a comment or email me). This would help confirm that the profit margin for online is greater than in print. I keep telling the newspaper folks that they should not be concerned about replacing lost print revenue dollar of dollar with online revenue. The key metrics are profit margin and net profit. 30% on $100 million beats 20% on $125 million.
2. c) For the industry overall it has been running about a 30% to 35% clip recently—both in the US and EU. It is still under 6% of total newspaper ad revenue in the U.S., but much needed, as print revenue has been flat.
3. b) Advertising expenditures have hovered about 2% of GDP for decades, up a bit in good years, down some in recession years. In 1930 newspapers took in about 45% of the total. By 1950 it was down to about 30%, with most of the difference going to radio. Surprisingly perhaps, television had relatively little effect on newspaper advertising share, with most of that medium’s share coming out of radio in the 1950s. Of course, the total amount spent on advertising kept increasing over the years, as 2% of a consistently larger GDP kept all boats rising, even as some lost share. But today, with so many boats in the water, newspapers are not only losing share but, in constant dollars, finding it hard to even increase ad rates enough to make up for declining lineage. Even broadcast television is losing share, to cable networks.
4. e) Trick question. Newmark—as presumably most of the readers of this blog will know, was a software engineer and did not come from the newspaper industry. That, of course, is the point. We might have expected that someone at a newspaper would have seen the connection between online and classifieds in a creative way before an outsider did. In fact, incumbents tend not to be product innovators because they are afraid of cannibalizing their current profitable products. So outsiders are freer to innovate. It is easier to create a Wal-Mart from the ground up than for a Sears to re-invent itself. By the way, Craigslist first appeared for the San Francisco area in 1995.
5. d) Knight-Ridder teamed up with AT&T to create Viewtron, a videotex service, in 1983. I was there. It used a TV set for the display (what else?) and the ubiquitous “set top box” from AT&T for the smarts, incorporating a 1200 baud modem. All for about $600 (double that in today’s dollars). Oh, plus $12 per month, plus $1 per hour for the dial-up time. The graphics were crude. But the services are recognizable: news, weather, sports, primitive online banking, shopping—and email with the handful of others who subscribed. Never heard of it? Surprise! They shut it down in 1986, after spending $50 million. Right idea, wrong decade.
The point of the quiz is three fold: First, the online information business did not arrive suddenly with the commercialization of the Internet. It started with Prestel in the late 1970s in the UK and had the attention of the newspaper industry (or at least Knight-Ridder and Times Mirror, which lagged K-R only by months with its own videotex trials) in the early 1980s. Unfortunately, the failure of these early developments emboldened the naysayers who were skeptical that online would ever be a threat to newspapers.
Second, it is exceedingly hard for incumbent players in any industry to reinvent themselves faster than outsiders can see and take advantage of opportunities. For the incumbents the knee jerk reaction is to preserve market share. For the new guys, getting even one or two percent of a large market such as advertising, can look very attractive.
Finally, online advertising dollars are quickly becoming sizeable and the profit margins make even the 20% sought under the old one-newspaper city model look minimal. Growing the online component of their businesses—whether with a MySpace type acquisition or more modest local initiatives—is not only important, but urgent and imperative.
Denial and isolation - The "This won't happen to me! I don't really have to worry" stage.
Anger - The "Why me?" How dare you do this to me!" stage.
Bargaining - The "Maybe I can evade this fate by co-opting or sidestepping it " stage.
Depression - The "It's really happening and I can't stop it" stage.
Acceptance - The "Let it happen; I don't want to struggle anymore" stage.
The news industry is dying. In which of Kübleresque stages is this industry. There have been some major changes this year.
But first, do I exaggerate the patient's condition? I don't think so. Nor do others. Furthermore, when I state that the news industry is dying, no, I don't want it to die. I am just stating the condition of the industry. There will always be a need for journalism, but the question is whether there will be an industry in which journalists can work.
Let's examine the patient. Its vital signs have been fading for decades. Circulations and readership of newspapers and news magazines has been evaporating. Listenership and viewership of broadcast news programs have likewise been are dissipating. These declines had been slow, about half a percent annually, but in the past few years have accelerated to a few percentages annually. The industry's heart still beats, and some industry leaders still to profess its vigor, but now even its core vital signs its revenues (adjusted for inflation) and its profit margins the pulse and blood pressure of the industry, have begun to wane.
Many industry executives claim that a transplant into the new-media will save the patient. However, an examination of data shows that their online editions are read by fewer people and less often and less frequently than the dying print or broadcast editions. Moreover, ten years into these efforts, the online editions are earning only one-twentieth to one-hundredth per user what the dying print edition earns per reader.
The news industry is in critical condition everywhere except countries that only now are forming their economic middle classes such as China and India; places only now rising to the levels North America and Western Europe reached 90 years ago (during the heyday of newspapers). The patient is dying everywhere else. The industry needs a radical course correction.
The eldest form of mass media will likely be the first to kick the bucket. 'Who Killed the Newspaper?' asked the cover of The Economist weekly news magazine on August 24th. , In a post-mortem a priori to newspapers' death, the magazine (which in a quaint British tradition styles itself a newspaper) The Economist cover story began with an editorial stating:
Newspapers have not yet started to shut down in large numbers, but it is only a matter of time. Over the next few decades half the rich world's general papers may fold.
And later in a 2,900-word special report about the newspaper industry, it noted: