The Industry That Cried Wolf—Is the ‘evolve or die’ rule universal?

The press release is dead. The media is dying. It’s beginning to feel like we work for the industry that cried wolf.

While I am by no means saying PR pros shouldn’t be concerned about and keenly aware of the intricacies of the media’s evolution, it’s time we stopped panicking and took a look at the facts. Or more importantly, a look at the newspaper industry’s proposed solution—a new and improved online product. Can it work? Is it a universal solution?

The Nature of the Beast

A recent post by Mashable revealed the newspaper industry’s revenues crashed by 29% during the second quarter of 2009 (compared to Q2 2008.)

David Carr’s August 30, 2009 New York Times article ‘You’re Gone. But hey, you can reapply’ revealed that not only had 70 positions been eliminated at the Westchester-based The Journal News but that part of the newspaper’s “restructuring” included its online product, www.LoHud.com.

I’ll willingly admit the decline, and possible fall, of the print media empire seems inevitable. Companies are struggling because of the economy and, in turn, are cutting back on advertising. As ad revenue decreases, the newspaper itself becomes thinner. And as the revenues continue to decline, jobs are cut.

To combat this perpetual drop in revenue, newspapers like The Journal News (www.lohud.com) are trying to boost their online content with multimedia and even blogs. Interestingly, Carr’s article revealed that blogs at www.LoHud.com account for 20% of the newspaper’s site traffic, four times higher than the industry average, according to Ken Doctor, a media analyst at Outsell.

So maybe a new and improved website is the solution. After all, the 2008 Pew Research Center Biennial News Consumption Survey found 83% of people use search engines to find news. But is it a universal solution?

The Nature of the Content

A universal solution? Not from my perspective. Not as a PR pro and, more importantly, not as a consumer.

Perhaps I am a generational anomaly. I’m a frequent Amazon.com purchaser and I practically attack the mailman for the latest issue of my favorite periodicals. I love poking through the bookstore and skimming the latest books and magazines. If my magazines go digital I won’t read them. And I’m more inclined to read a physical newspaper than I am its online counterpart.

Before we get into a lengthy debate over whether or not I’m the exception or the rule, let’s consider an alternative—whether or not print can transition to and survive in a digital format depends on the nature of the content.

It’s no secret that I am the #PRBC’s resident pastry chef. Or that @PRCog suggested I furnish our readers with some recipes for Flourless Flack Chocolate Cake. I read content-rich publications. And by content rich, I don’t just mean publications with factually dense content. I mean publications with a high volume of detailed content.

I’m not going to take my laptop into the kitchen and repeatedly check the screen with batter-laden fingers for the next step in a recipe or to verify if the cake I am decorating looks like the model. And I am certainly not going to pay an online subscription fee and print out five pages of instructions when a hard copy used to be included in my subscription fee. It’s just not going to happen. Some content isn’t easily transported.

Now breaking news headlines can fit into 140 characters so it seems they are suitable for online content. As for videos, can newspapers really develop an online video component that can successfully compete with YouTube?

My Bottom Line; Their Bottom Line

If readers aren’t subscribing to the print edition, how can publications get visitors to their website? How can publications transition their website from free to paid content without losing visitors? Is an online subscription fee and a compelling website enough to keep a publication afloat?

My theory: paid subscriptions to publications’ websites aren’t going to save the industry. It’s putting a patch where there needs to be a dam. People aren’t going to start paying for what they have always gotten for free. And as for a new and improved website, it’s just better serving an existing audience.

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  • Such great questions – and I agree that paid online subscriptions aren't going to save the industry. Maybe the answer lies somewhere in the mobile world? Since there's an app for everything…paid apps for newspaper & magazine subscriptions w/ backend revenue share? Hmmmmm…..

    I do love reading magazines, but I must admit – I've long done away with the newspaper. Just way too messy for me – ink everywhere! 😉

    Thanks for this thought-provoking post.

  • Such great questions – and I agree that paid online subscriptions aren't going to save the industry. Maybe the answer lies somewhere in the mobile world? Since there's an app for everything…paid apps for newspaper & magazine subscriptions w/ backend revenue share? Hmmmmm…..

    I do love reading magazines, but I must admit – I've long done away with the newspaper. Just way too messy for me – ink everywhere! 😉

    Thanks for this thought-provoking post.

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