The Chicago Reader, a free alternative weekly, has put online its archive of long-form film reviews. It’s the latest in a line of print publications (such as Vogue and The New York Times) trying to figure out a way to add to the value or extend the reach of older content they own and have already paid for. Adam Tinworth lists an interesting couple of additional uses of archival material on his blog (M&S lingerie anyone?).
I’ve harped on about this before, using the example of the Irish Examiner’s archive of great Cork photos (that’s JFK on Cork’s Patrick Street, above).
But seeing a paper publish an archive of its film reviews brings the issue into sharper focus for me. Because print publications have been aggregating and publishing their non-news archive material on paper for years. In film, the obvious example is the annual Time Out film guide. But the Daily Telegraph has printed volumes of its renowned obituaries, a compilation of Yorkshire Evening Post cryptic crosswords accompanied me around the world and The Economist even publishes its in-house style guide. In hardback.
Newspapers are experienced at wringing extra revenue from their non-news content. Some of them are transferring that experience to their online operations – Vogue’s online archive costs $1,575 a year.
But many more are sitting around wringing their hands because “newsgathering is expensive” and no one wants to pay for “journalism”. It’s far from an original statement but it cannot be repeated often enough – readers never paid for journalism. They paid for the bundle – the crossword, the weather, the stock pages, the fashion pages, event listings, movie reviews. And newsgathering has always been the most expensive part of generating that bundle.
Parts of it are worthless a month after the event. Thanks to the internet, parts of it are worthless after minutes. But some parts are worth something a year, a decade or even a century later. Isn’t it time papers figured out which is which and started devoting more attention to bits that can provide either readers’ cash or readers’ eyeballs for years?
Lisa Simpson: Cheer up, Dad. Did you know the Chinese use the same word for ‘crisis’ as they do for ‘opportunity’?
Homer: Yes. Crisitunity.
I can’t remember when Irish journalism last looked so interesting. I may be paying closer attention with a view to returning home from Britain but I also can’t help noticing many more people are finally talking about the future of news in Ireland.
In the apocryphal Chinese proverb, interesting times are double-edged, of course. It is the sinking of print circulation and advertising revenues that is behind this drive to find a model that works (and pays) for Irish journalism on mobiles, tablets and the web. And that will mean further job losses and remaining journalists being required to do more.
However, job losses and growing workloads have been the reality in Western newspapers for years. It is only over the past couple of months that I’ve seen a concerted drive by Irish journalists to figure out the future of their trade. Even more significant I think is the visibility of this conversation between papers and new media outfits and between journalists of all stripes and their readers.
Old media Vs …
Six weeks ago, Alan Crosbie, the chairman of Thomas Crosbie Media, which publishes the Irish Examiner and The Sunday Business Post, gave a speech entitled “Media diversity and why it matters”. One line – “the threat to humanity posed by the tsunami of unverifiable data, opinion, libel and vulgar abuse in new media” – understandably overshadowed the wider point of the speech, which was a plea for newspapers to get a share of television licence fee funds. Despite that, the whole speech is worth your time. For example, Crosbie rightly points out that good journalism should be platform-independent:
“What’s important is the information itself, not what carries it.”
He also says information needs to be of good provenance. I couldn’t agree more, but where his argument falls down is in assuming that it is only newspapers that verify information and in missing possibly the greatest tool to help in verifying any piece of online information – the weblink. It is one of newspaper websites’ greatest failings that they have ignored linking out for so long.
Shane Hegarty, the Irish Times Arts Editor, knocks down Crosbie’s argument well here (although I found it odd he didn’t make reference to a commentary piece three days earlier by Conor Brady, the former Irish Times editor, which was largely in favour of the argument for a state subsidy). As a counterpoint to Crosbie’s arguments, Hegarty cites the words of John Paton, who despite almost constantly berating newspaper executives is fast becoming their guru du jour. Hegarty sums up Paton’s approach well in what should be a mission statement for publishers everywhere:
“It is about innovation rather than retrenchment; collaboration rather than the ‘Them vs Us’ attitude that is prevalent across the media spectrum and which coarsens much of the discussion.”
… New media
We need to bear in mind that the technology making these conversations so much more visible today is the same as that most often cited for the destruction of print’s business model – the web. Brady’s piece offers praise for some of Ireland’s emerging “new media” producers:
There are, of course, some fine internet-based news media. For example, high standards, combining accuracy and urgency, are set by storyful.com, established by RTÉ’s former man in Washington, Mark Little. David Cochrane’s politics.ie is a valuable and intelligent forum for discussion of important public issues. thejournal.ie is an excellent public notice board.
I can’t help thinking the praise is a little faint, and I think I know why. Brady, in trying to offer examples of publications that meet his notion of broadsheet quality, looks at these as standalone offerings – not as parts of a network. The three sites he named are among the most prolific users of Twitter and Facebook to share their stories, to solicit story ideas, and to spread their (my apologies) brand. All three have a fraction of the staff and overheads of a newspaper and the first two have a bigger reach on Twitter and Facebook than any Irish broadsheet but the Irish Times. As my admittedly beermaths graph below shows, thejournal.ie beats all Irish newspapers hands down.
The other side of that coin, of course, is that if their standards ever fall below what’s expected by readers, they will hear about it early and often through the same channels. While individual journalists are active on social media, Irish papers as institutions have a long way to go to reach that level of interaction with their readerships.
No Irish newspaper is going to be Ireland’s New York Times or Wall Street Journal. But they work in a small market that has a mix of newspapers in terms of size, disposition and demographics. Ireland also has a growing network of (sorry) “new media” businesses.
Hasn’t the stage already been set for Irish papers to experiment online? Doesn’t it make sense that instead of chasing drive-by viewers of single articles that more intense relationships are built with more devoted readers? As Bernie Goldbach pointed out in a post on Friday, isn’t it about time we got Ireland’s local newspapers engaged online? Thomas Crosbie Media and the Independent group both own local papers in addition to their nationals – why aren’t they trying to build a news and advertising ecosystem focused on (and assisted by) readers and advertisers in those communities, and let the knowledge gained in the process have a knock-on benefit to their flagship papers?
Facing the future
I’m not naive enough to think that Irish journalism will figure out a solution to declining newspaper circulations and falling ad revenues at its first attempt, but it has begun to admit the problem and address it openly.
I was cheered and saddened by a Roy Greenslade post last week quoting Hugh Linehan, the online editor of the Irish Times:
“… let me be really frank and lay my cards on the table: I think print will die.”
There is nothing new in “print will die”. It echoes a 2010 statement by Arthur Sulzberger on the New York Times:
“… we will stop printing the New York Times sometime in the future, date TBD.”
I would miss the notion of a print edition of the Irish Times, but I buy it once a week and nostalgia won’t pay their bills. I do, however, find it heartening that the environment has finally changed enough to allow open contemplation of a world where it no longer exists on paper. It’s also worth pointing out that the seminar where Linehan voiced his opinions on the future of print was also attended by representatives of the Irish Examiner, journal.ie and storyful.
Critics will no doubt point out that talking about journalism won’t save it, but from where do they expect the ideas that will? Acknowledging openly that print is screwed and engaging with your “competition” shows a much healthier side to the Irish journalism debate. As long as nobody gets too carried away – a final word of “I’m not the Messiah” warning from John Paton, as reported in the New York Times:
According to Mr. Paton, his new employees at MediaNews were hoping to discern the silver bullet that would enable them not only to survive, but prosper. Instead, he worked his way through a detailed presentation about outsourcing most operations other than sales and editorial, focusing on the cost side that might include further layoffs, stressing digital sales over print sales with incentives, and using relationships with the community to provide some of the content in their newspapers.
“When I finished, they looked crestfallen,” he said, adding that they seemed to be asking, ‘No secret sauce? No magic program to make us go from print to digital? Anyone can do what you’re talking about.’ “
Interestingly, however, the Times also posted audited figures for some of its digital editions – 2,023 for its online e-paper and 1,687 for subs on what they call “other platforms, such as Kindle” – I assume that’s e-readers as its iPhone and Android apps are currently free.
Some beermat maths: The Kindle edition costs £14.99 (€17.65) a month, the epaper between €13.33 and about €50 a month depending on how you pay. So that comes to somewhere between about €56,000 and €133,000 a month. That leaves the Times some way to go to make up for the missing 6,393 sales (worth about £325,000 a month on cover price alone).
Although Liam Kavanagh, the MD, said he was happy with the print + apps + epaper total, by far the most interesting thing he said yesterday was again raising the prospect of a paywall, “particularly in the context of business coverage and niche content”, at irishtimes.com. That may explain the heavy trailing for their revamped daily business supplement.
I do hope the Irish Times isn’t basing its plans on the success of the Financial Times and Wall Street Journal’s paywalls. I’ve written here before that I don’t think a general interest newspaper can compete with such specialist publications. Irish newspaper executives are almost certainly also looking at the relative success of the New York Times’s paywall (although plummeting advertising revenues take the gloss off that, too).
In the US, Gannett announced yesterday that it was going to put up a metered-use paywall at 80 titles. The company, which owns 200 titles in the UK, claims the US paywalls could increase revenues by $100 million. I’ll believe it when I see it. In London yesterday, News International announced a new “digital pack”, essentially doubling the online price of the Times of London and the Sunday Times. The Times claims 119,255 digital subscribers, but doesn’t break them down between web-only and print subscribers and doesn’t indicate what kind of reader turnover it suffers.
In short, the titles that use or plan to use paywalls are either so specialised, so over-optimistic or so secretive, it is very difficult to extract any meaningful indication of whether such a strategy would work in a market as small as Ireland’s. My suspicion is that it would not.
“These days we can’t live without Google; but before it existed, I couldn’t even have articulated my need for it.”
It should scare everyone who is neither an inventor nor an entrepreneur — it surely scares the life out of me, because it seems like exactly where news online is headed. For an essentially subjective endeavour such as news gathering, I still feel that reporters, sub-editors and designers are a resourceful, inventive, practical lot. But from where I sit, we’ve got nothing to offer the pot — the changes in how we work and why those changes are being made are being dictated from outside.
What really caught me was this age-old observation about Kodak:
“We all know that the digital camera was invented in Kodak’s labs, but it threatened the formidable profitability of their three-legged model of chemicals, paper and film, and the innovation was never made a priority.”
When placed alongside this story about how Nokia had a touchscreen smartphone ready to go six years ago, but shelved it, it makes you feel far less sympathy for their current floundering.
“It was very early days, and no one really knew anything about the touch screen’s potential. And it was an expensive device to produce, so there was more risk involved for Nokia. So management did the usual. They killed it.” – Ari Hakkarainen
Disruption can be good, is often necessary to sweep away outmoded production methods and can give an industry the means to transform and survive. But how often are managements killing things they aren’t prepared to take a risk on? Worse still, how often do managers buy into a load of guff that sounds disruptive and transformative because it’s on the right bandwagon rather than because they actually understand the change and how it applies to their business? And how often are newsrooms even aware that any of this has taken place?
I would submit that “The art-director will run the newsroom of the future!” is in the guff category. The exclamation point is theirs, and should speak volumes. What utter bilge, peddled by people with more interest in how the container appears than in its contents. Again and again, news executives are bypassing the talent in their newsrooms looking for disruption and the iPad-led gold and glory they assume (and new media conferences and consultants promise) will follow.
Perhaps a more concrete example can be found in Juan Antonio Giner’s Innovation in Newspapers blog. It has been essential reading for me for quite a few years now, but as I have pointed out before, concerns itself less and less with newspapers as time goes by. That really is a shame – this post should illustrate to fans how far it has sunk.
It is one thing to pronounce daily on good and bad newspaper design and journalism but to put forward this “concept phone” as a possible solution is seeing the news consultant merry-go-round finally begin to eat itself.
The solution!! Hallelujah!!! — too bad it’s five to 10 years away, by which time every problem we imagine it will solve will either have ceased to be or will have been cracked more cheaply and simply by somebody else. Why not just suggest an “app” that prints money? It’s about as credible and is designed to appeal to exactly the same instincts.
Which brings us back to the true disruptors – the guys who will make a mint turning news on its head at low cost, using technology and scale, and without the burdens of legacy news production such as people, pensions and presses.
Simon Waldman cites the following:
Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Jerry Yang and David Filo, Niklas Zennstrom and Janus Friis, Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, Pierre Omidyar, Reed Hastings, Marc Benioff (Salesforce.com), Andrew Black and Edward Wray (Betfair), Craig Newmark and Jim Buckmaster, Natalie Massenet (Net-a-porter),Tony Hsieh (Zappos.com), Evan Williams and Mark Pincus.
You’ll be familiar with most of the names. I dare say none of them has ever phoned a fire station at 1am, doorstepped a company director or tickled an intro with seconds to go before deadline. But until the operatives of every journalistic enterprise of every size come up with something better, the future of the industry is in the hands of the entrepreneurs and not those more concerned with its nuts and bolts.
PetaPixel and Charles Apple both posted on this yesterday. The image, originally by Reuters, is clearly photoshopped to remove the woman in the middle and cropped to remove the man on the right.
I’m not sure how I feel about it. I did or commissioned similar things for feature or analysis pages at my last paper. The cover is a different country, but still not sure it doesn’t tell a good story well. This isn’t a daily newspaper, after all, and they do often use more obviously manipulated photos on their fronts.
A lot of people are posting on the Wapping paywalls. This is my completely subjective selection:
The Drum has rounded up a few reactions from creative/advertising/PR types and the gist is a mix of time-will-tells and jury-still-outs. One interesting point was that the design of the site made it difficult to navigate on the iPad, which is odd given the resources the Times is devoting to the Apple device.
George Brock, professor and head of journalism at City University London, tells the Independent, reasonably enough, that it’s too early to tell whether the Wapping “experiment” will succeed.
John Naughton, in the Observer, also takes up the “experiment” line, saying “Rupert Murdoch may be richer or poorer as a result, but we will all be much the wiser.” My guess is Mr Murdoch will be poorer and the prevailing wisdom – absolute paywalls don’t work for general news content – will be confirmed.
Steve Outing at least lays his cards on the table, saying Rupert Murdoch’s move is uber-dumb. He makes a point of how “hard” the paywalls actually are – no Google indexing and no deep links. He suggests the Guardian’s all-open, all the time strategy is better suited to the web.
On the courageously pro-paywall side is this two-week-old piece from Prospect magazine, “Murdoch is right”. It asks “If we value good journalism, why don’t we pay for it online?” It doesn’t answer the question even remotely, but it’s worth a read and, ironically enough, it’s in the “free” section of their freemium-model website.
Adrian Weckler, a tech reporter with the Sunday Business Post in Dublin, reported on twitter that he was offered a year’s subscription for £50, less than half the touted £2-a-week rate. He also pointed out that the subscription email referred to “joining 100,000 other subscribers”. But how many of those will remain beyond the £1 for 30 days trial period?
Poynter compares the Timeses’ approach to paywalls with the metered model the FT is using and the New York Times is planning. Again, to anyone who missed it, these semi-open paywalls are the better choice because they still allow discovery by Google, they allow deep linking from bloggers, tweets and Facebook updates and thereby maintain the exposure and currency of the Timeses’ expensive columnists and commentators. The “freemium” model also allows wide advertising of different price points at which consumers can enter – starting with the best one, free. The Times seems to ignore a fairly basic point of marketing.
My two cents is that the plan doesn’t seem coherent – the timing of the changes is unclear, the pricing is unclear and the underlying strategy for growing a web presence and associated revenues is non-existent. As I’ve mentioned before, I would have liked to see what the Times could have done in the open with the level of resources and attention it has thrown at a doomed paywall.
Finally, those papers and online news providers wishing to stay open but still looking to cut costs and needless levels of middle management procurement and implementation bureaucracy would do worse than look at the Ben Franklin project. Belated Happy Independence Day, Americans!