Sunday, January 18

Comment: Is there life in Newspapers?

Seth Godin's, the digital marketing guru, has an interesting post on what will we miss when the Newspaper is gone. As a former 'digital' exec at News Corp's The Times and The Sun, I've had a good close look at this.

Back in 2005 I used to think the newspaper would quickly be superceded by the web, blogs, online newspapers, citizen journalism. Actually, it's pure economics that will bring their downfall, eventually. But unlike Seth, I think there is and will continue to be a demand for the newspaper experience. The problem is how to replicate it without paper?

Unlike the web, newspapers bring it all to you, in one convenient, well organised package. Rather than using a website where we headline scan or just delve into the categories we love (Footie, Business) to get our fix, a newspaper has an ability to 'interrupt', to get us to read something we may not have looked for. I personally never look at the celeb gossip on the web, but in a newspaper, I'll read those stories and quite like it.

The Sun, for example, offers a strong point of view, it champions charitable causes, it play's with celebrities lives, hits you with football gossip. The experience is light but this is a well crafted product. It can be 30 minutes of entertainment to fuel a 'pub conversation'. It's a marmite product for most (either love it or hate it) but either way, it offers a wrapped up read. Plenty of websites do the same but I would never consumer as much of the content across as many subjects on a screen.

The Times is an entirely different beast. Founded in intelligently crafted articles and analysis, it has gravitas and authority. Individually bloggers, such as Seth, can give us this same quality but they are each covering one topic or category, and we have to discover each one of them to get the total picture. The web is great for 'otaku' not so good for the wider picture.

It is easy to pull the pieces of a newspaper apart and replace each one with a fantastic website, blog, forum. But it is the physical 'paper' that makes the daily or weekly a uniquely captive experience, for readers and for advertisers.

Seth is absolutely right about the things going against the newspapers future. Printing oodles of paper, trucking it around the country, doesn't make a lot of sense in today's world. Surely either the environment or just the distribution costs alone will catch-up and surpass the revenues. But I think that day is still some years away.

In Asia and developing countries many big newspapers are in the growth phase. In Vietnam, as incomes are rising, and despite 100% free wi-fi in the cities, circulations are steadily increasing year on year. Distribution and production costs are lower in these countries too. So we may see the newspaper living on in developing nations, long after it is no longer viable in the West.

If the world's media houses can find a way to give me that 'newspaper experience' without the paper, I'll continue to buy. But it certainly wont be through a website. And I wont fly to Asia to get it!

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