Consumers want information, not “media”

By Elias Bizannes on July 4, 2008 | Permalink

For years now, we’ve been hearing how technology is a generational thing. Apparently, these unpredictable Gen y’ers had a keyboard and mouse grow in place where the umbilical cord was cut – and everything needs to be different for them. And whilst growing up with technology is a major factor on the adoption of things, is the traditional publishing industry in denial? Arguments for print seem to centre on it being a better experience, but take a look on the other side – we are time poor with the complexities of modern life, and whilst print is a more enjoyable experience, online makes it an easier experience.
To get a reality check I asked my father, a 72 year-old battler who continues to practice in his law firm, on how he consumes the news.
I first realised a change in his approach to buying the daily newspaper, when court listings for the day became available online (or at least, when he realised). Apparently, it was easier, more likely to be accurate, and more accessible. Fast forward a few years later, to the last week of June 2008 about his current news consumption – and his relationship with print has changed quite dramatically from that first warning sign. Apparently, he no longer buys the daily newspaper and only the weekend newspaper. As for the reason why he buys the weekend paper, it’s for two reasons. The features, perhaps? Possibly for the news summary? Not quite. He buys it for two regular columnists whose opinions he has come to admire. As for the rest of it: “It’s full of ads and crap; I don’t want to read it”. He buys the weekend paper for fun; but he now solely gets his news online. This is in stark contrast to the pre-internet days when he bought the newspaper not for fun, but because it was the sole source of information for his generation.
Cut to another day, when receiving a fresh e-mail alert that day from one of my subscriptions, I saw an announcement that newspaper executives were confident in the long term viability of their business. So I couldn’t help but ask a colleague of mine a simple question, as he works on a newsprint company that supplies most of the needs of the newspaper industry. I asked: “So how is that company going?” His response – newsprint is a declining industry, if you assess it on the amount of newsprint purchased each year. For all the temporary spikes and boosts in optimism, the long term trends are telling are different story.
A friend of mine, is the online editor of a high-profile magazine in Australia. He hates his job for the simple fact, that the executives in that organisation simply do not get new media. Its got to the point, where he is looking for a new job, because he believes with the current changes not enough resources will be devoted for online, and it will effectively make his job obsolete. He’s 26 years old and doesn’t get why they are cutting resources online to focus on print instead. The current website may not be optimal, but rather than cutting resources, shouldn’t they simply be upping the ante on experimenting what is right for their demographic?
On my Apple iPhone, and for years previously on my Nokia smartphones, I’ve been able to catch up with the news on my phone whilst waiting for the train, waiting for girlfriends at the time getting ready, or stuck in traffic on the roads. During the day, I get newsbreak flashes up on my computer screen through several methods I’ve experimented. Both methods rely on me using RSS or Syndication technology that enable the decentralised distribution of content. I’ve bookmarked some news websites, but I rarely browse them other than when my browser fires up. I’m still the same news junkie I have always been, back from my days when I read a daily newspaper: I just now prefer to have my information in different ways, which in fact, has increased my consumption because of the variety of ways to access it. Newspaper companies are dead to me; but information companies are still heavy in demand.
The solution? A change in attitude: experiment until something works
Old money is driving strategy, and because no one has really worked out how to do it better, strategy is not changing enough. Why is a cash cow company going to cannibalise its existing business, despite being in for inevitable decline? Of course what shocks me, is not the fact executives recognise the times are changing – instead, there almost seems denial in the fact. And unfortunately, until better business models can be developed that don’t rely on a page view (which is really just a replication of the offline mass media circulation model), we won’t be seeing any change, other than those with the courage to experiment. Change is needed – and the longer this reality is avoided, the more likely this will not be a decision but a forced reality, with no buffer for the transition. The result: Expect to see a lot more bombs being dropped in the newsrooms.
The first step to progress comes with recognition new solutions are needed. The recognition bit comes on the back of the fact that online does information better than any other method. And it’s information consumers want – the medium that delivers that information is just that: a mechanism to deliver the end product.