The print publishing industry has been turned upside down in recent years, and the turmoil is intensifying. Two decades ago, the internet was only just starting to take off — it was easy to sell print advertising space because it was still an essential component of most businesses’ marketing plans. Since then, there’s been a stampede to get online and everything has changed — how people read, how they look for information, how we all communicate, how businesses promote themselves and how they engage with their customers. Print advertising budgets have been slashed and are still shrinking year-on-year. Readers are buying fewer and fewer printed newspapers and magazines. With tumbling revenues, some print publications have managed to find new ways of doing things, many are struggling to survive, and a huge number have already been burned to ashes on a pyre of unwanted paper.
The Online Battle for Readers
A new digital business model has emerged from all of the upheaval. Many publishers now busy themselves with generating huge volumes of content all the time, posting and sharing and hash-tagging themselves into a frenzy, in an attempt to grab readers’ attention. They want readers to notice their articles, photos and videos, follow them on social media, visit their websites, and click on their advertisers’ banners and sponsored posts. This kind of reader response is measurable, and therefore valuable to advertisers. So, most digital publishers are essentially and desperately fixated on producing content that will generate views, visits and clicks. It’s all about the views, visits and clicks.
The problem with this new (now normal) publishing model is that the online battle for readers’ attention is becoming ferocious. The volume of content available to us has become overwhelming, quality has given way to quantity and, let’s face it, much of what is out there is rubbish. We spend hours online but our eyes are being bombarded, our attention spans are getting shorter, we get distracted and move on so quickly that in the end we see nothing at all. Publishers who play this game have discovered that advertisers now have so many marketing options available to them that even selling digital advertising space is not as easy as it sounds — so many of them still can’t make a living. And know this: Google and Facebook walk away with the lion’s share of the UK’s digital advertising spend, with only a tiny mouse’s share coming back to benefit the people in the form of tax on profits.
Building a Sustainable Business
Some (especially niche) publishing businesses can and do succeed in this challenging environment. As advertising revenues drop, there are new ways to make money — more than ever we need to innovate, focus on our core strengths, and creatively embrace the opportunities that technology brings. We need to be as good at marketing as we are at writing. We need to actively collaborate, network and form strategic partnerships. We need to stick to our principals as journalists, and only tell the truth. Above all, we need to know our readers and keep them at the heart of everything we do.