Look around you, right now. You may be sat at your desk, slouched on the couch, or en-route to somewhere special but the chances are you’re probably ‘consuming content’ on your smart phone, tablet or some such device. And those around you are probably at it as well. On my own daily grind I very rarely see anyone struggling with a broadsheet or flicking through a red-top any longer as the only papers commuters appear to read are Metro in the morning and The Standard in the evening. The common denominator is they’re both free.
So, it’ll come as no great Usain Bolt outta the blue, that newspaper circulation is plummeting. I’m sure we’re all aware of the sad demise of The Independent earlier this year and even Dear Rupert’s managing to only flog just over a million and a half daily copies of the builders’ favourite, The Sun, from a 2010 figure of double this. The Torygraph a similar 500k from almost 700k, and The Grauniad an astronomically worrying 166,500. Astronomically worrying as I’ve always taken The Guardian. And Private Eye. Obviously.
An ol’ print ‘father’ of the Fleet Street Chapels once elegantly explained to me that the cover price of the newspaper covered the cost of the PIP (paper, ink and printing press) but that advertising paid for everything else, including everyone’s salaries. But ‘cover price & advertising’ no longer equates to either turning presses or buzzing newsrooms. Rumour has it The Guardian is losing a hundred grand week. I suspect most guardians of the independent, quality press are astronomically worried.
With the onset of t’internet, where news is more than likely to be published for free, sales have fallen and advertising revenue is on the move. Ask yourself where you’d go to buy your next motor, a des-res, meet a lonely-heart or eye-spy a spell in the sun? Once upon a time it’d be the classifieds and the displays, now it’s online at the specialist sites of Auto Trader, Zoopla and Match. Today, online advertising contributes in the region of as little as 10% of the publisher’s overall revenue. Factor in the modern day phenomena of adblocking, which is decimating click-through & impression revenues on what little advertising remains, and it ain’t rosy in the publishing garden.
The press has always faced challenges from innovation and changing social trends – radio & TV in their day and now the internet – and they’ve been adept at continuing to make money in the brave new worlds. ‘Rivers of Gold’ as Murdoch oft referred. Several titles (The Times, The FT and the Wall Street Journal) have placed their premium content out of reach of the great-unwashed behind non-negotiable paywalls and tightly controlled subscription demands. However, the key in there is ‘premium’ and for the majority of news providers, it just doesn’t work at scale. The Sun recently demolished its paywall when a paltry number of only 250,000 subscribers signed-up, and in reality, none of us want more than a couple of on-going subscriptions coming out of our hard-earned every month.
The manner in which we read the news has changed forever: online readership is sporadic, irregular, often spontaneous and impulsive, and the way we wish to pay for it needs to replicate this. Micropayments have never (yet) worked and over $1bn has been wasted establishing precious little, but are events now conspiring to change this? Analysing the commercial & academic research of Shirky, Szabo & Isaacson over the last twenty years, we now realise the decision to purchase news needs to be binary: yea/nay. Too many questions and you’re gone. Furthermore, the consumer should be trusted to set the payment amount at a level both sides are happy with. Three seconds, one-click and people will do the decent thing. Ask Radiohead. Reade…er, sorry, consumers want to reward great content they genuinely enjoy and benefit from, it’s just they’ve never had the mechanism to do so. Go check out Tibit and you’ll see what I mean. A very innovative, novel take on what has gone before.
Think we don’t need high quality, investigative journalism? Cast your mind back to the silver screening of All The Presidents Men (Nixon/Watergate brought to you by The Washington Post), Spotlight (The Boston Globe uncovering worldwide systematic abuse by the catholic church) and our very own phone-hacking & WikiLeaks scandals. Journalism’s not broken, but the model that pays for it, is. If this isn’t changed, all future generations will have on their small silver screens will be ad-swamp, click-bait & churnalism and our ‘daily rag’ will be no more than a quaint, poignant anomaly of the 20th century.