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On the Digital Future of Content

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The Future of News: It’s Not About You, It’s About Them

Posted on May 1, 2012 in Future of News | 0 comments

I spend a fair amount of time in forums discussing news, both newspapers and digital news. I am struck by how often someone will chime in with “My grandmother won’t read news online” or “I don’t own a smartphone” or “I like paper coupons” as if those lone opinions somehow underscore a business case for favoring print. Now don’t get me wrong, it is true that there is a demographic associated with every one of those statements. But alone, one person’s opinion is not in itself proof of a trend, a market size, or even a powerful and resilient demographic. Too often an editor or publisher makes business decisions based on their own personal world view, or based on the views and experiences of the newspaper people with whom they associate. This is a mistake that can kill an industry. I came to the newspaper industry by way of the information design and user experience world, serving for over a decade as an information architect (or IA in Silicon Valley parlance). Information architecture is defined by Richard Saul Wurman as “the structure or map of information which allows others to find their personal paths to knowledge.” While a trained IA or user experience designer might develop solid user interfaces through natural instinct, we are trained early on not to design for what we would find intuitive ourselves, but for what the intended users (profiled into market segments or demographic archetypes), would find intuitive. This is one of the basic principles of user-centered design: you must think outside yourself and continually test your assumptions. I have worked for several years in marketing as well, and I know that marketing folks have similar tenets: don’t rely on positioning that would sway you, the writer, but instead think about what positioning would most influence your targeted demographic markets. And so I would strongly urge decision makers in the news industry (heck, everyone in the news industry!) to spend more time thinking not about what they would like, but where their advertisers and their readership are headed. Study the facts and figures. Looks at trends and analysis. You know how to find sources,...

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Where Did Newspapers Go Wrong?

Posted on Feb 1, 2012 in Future of News | 0 comments

About a decade ago, newspaper agencies began to lose sight of what advertisers were asking for, and at the same time they failed to monetize valuable online content, focusing almost wholly on one of the worst forms of online advertising: banner ads. They also ceded revenue from areas like classifieds and job postings to Internet competitors, and missed new online opportunities in areas like coupons, business directories, video infomercials, and email direct marketing. It’s little wonder then that newspaper revenues are shrinking. The question persists, how is it that Silicon Valley 20-somethings found it so easy to eat the newspaper industry’s lunch? Why was the industry so slow to adapt? This blog is about forward-thinking solutions, so I am not eager to dwell on what has already happened. The lunch has been eaten; it’s time to get a new one. Hindsight, as Malcolm Gladwell suggests in his essay “Connecting the Dots,” is subject to “’creeping determinism’–the sense that grows on us, in retrospect, that what has happened was actually inevitable.” (Although, dear reader, I do look forward to your comments in this regard.) Let’s just say for now that newspapers were neither staffed nor prepared to embrace digital innovation. But that time has passed, and digital opportunity is readily available, and comparatively inexpensive, to whose who reach for it. It’s instructive to look at the habits of advertisers, since advertising represents 50% to 75% of a newspaper’s overall revenue. While newspaper sales departments are still trying to sell print ads, local business advertisers have moved on to new and better ways to connect with their customers: Facebook business pages, YouTube branded channels, mobile business apps, email campaigns, online coupons, and much more, almost all of it online. Advertisers are spending money; record amounts of it. In fact, online ad spending has finally surpassed print ad spending. Just not at the newspaper. This has to change. It’s not an inevitable trend, it’s a blind spot that must be addressed. The 2012 projections are now in, following a substantial rise in 2011: “US online ad spending will post growth well above 20% again this year to reach nearly $40 billion, eMarketer estimates, as the...

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