As more people go online to get their daily news fix, industry experts are quick in sounding the death knell for the print industry, predicting an end-of-the-road scenario for newspapers and magazines.
Despite the naysayers however, we still are witnessing print titles being launched (Monocle, with a cover price of US$10, was launched just three years ago and is reportedly doing well) and large amounts of money spent to acquire a title (Bloomberg’s decision to buy over Business Week saw millions of dollars exchanging hands).
Then again the truth is out there for all to see. Slowly but surely we are all adopting a digital lifestyle. Facebook has already reached a subscriber base of 500 million and the one billion mark is not impossible according to its founder.
The just concluded soccer World Cup matches were streamed online and so are most cricket matches now.
Some campaigns are exclusively launched on YouTube and not on any traditional TV or cable channels.
With the advent of Smartphones and gadgets like iPads, digital consumption is getting more pervasive.
But here’s the thing. The real issue is not about print versus online. It is about whether a media brand is strong enough to survive in any form, whether print or digital. It’s not about whether newspapers and magazines will survive the online juggernaut but rather which ones will survive and adapt itself in the digital world. Which is why it is surprising that no one seems to be talking about the benefits of building a strong media brand.
A strong media brand would be one which consistently provides original content and independent analyses for a specific audience who see these brands as intelligent, reliable and credible. The New York Times and The Economist are two venerable brands that come to mind as ones with a dedicated following. Readers would not miss a chance to follow them anywhere – online, Kindle, Twitter, or in its traditional form. Not surprisingly, both print titles enjoy high readership and are able to command a hefty ad rate, recession or not.
The original management guru, Peter Drucker urged business owners many decades ago to answer a seemingly simple question, ‘What business are you in?’ Hopefully newspapers today don’t see themselves as being in the business of newspapers but in the business of disseminating news and analyses for education and entertainment. That way they will continue to flourish even if the form in which they are consumed changes.
Media brands must remember that people choose content before form and if the content is differentiated enough, it will generate an audience in whatever form they choose to be in – whether a broadsheet or a Smartphone application.
On the other hand, print brands that are essentially me-too products with little to differentiate them will fall by the wayside because of decreasing readership resulting in less ad revenues.
Take the case of Singaporeans. Suddenly they have the freedom to decide what they read thanks to the internet. Having operated in a protected environment for long, Singaporean media brands now all of a sudden find themselves under pressure to innovate and become relevant. Or else.
According to veteran journalist P. N. Balji, “The Singapore media is caught in a classic trap. It knows a dark and stormy future is looming on the horizon, but has no real idea what to do about it.”
Well for a start, Singapore media brands can become even more relevant and interesting to Singaporeans in an effort to build strong brands Singaporeans just can’t do without.
Only when we live a totally digital lifestyle and do away with paper completely, will the print industry as we know it disappear. And even then will you be reading your favourite print brands on the nearest available screen.