Which of the Dinosaurs will Survive?

The Guardian newspaper has launched an online Australia version of its newspaper:

Guardian Australia launches with promise of ‘fresh and independent view’

In my view this is part of the future of newspapers and marks the continuation of what I see as a major extinction event where there will be a further massive loss of newspapers around the world. This is due to continuing evidence that digital pay models and digital advertising are not replacing the old business models in terms of revenue per reader. Therefore I think that the media landscape in general and newspapers in particular will divide into a few distinct business models:

1/ The Global Giants.

There will be some very large newspapers that will survive and prosper and they will do so by reaching a much larger global audience and therefore garnering enough revenue to maintain good levels of quality, stories and investigative journalism. The Guardian is an example of one of these that may survive and the story they have done on the bushfires in Tasmania, Australia is a case in point:

Firestorm

A compelling story, told in a superb and mesmerising way that has local content and interest but also has a wider global audience and interest.  That global audience includes those that have bushfires issues in their own communities but also those people interested in great human interest stories. It also not a “normal” newspaper story.

The key initial ingredient that the newspapers have that might survive with this business model is a great and trusted brand. So newspapers like the New York Times, The Times, and The Guardian are good candidates.

However that great and trusted brand is only a ticket to play in the game and does not guarantee survival. A lot of well known newspapers are going to try this strategy and only a few will survive. Two other key components are going to be required. The first is continual investment in the assets required to tell great stories – journalists. The second is patient capital because this is going to be a long and bloody fight and the organisations involved will need deep pockets:

NOTE: The Guardian bushfire story was notified to me by Michael Cote who is a climate adaptation consultant and runs a blog on Tumblr (Climate Adaptation) where I follow him. This is a mark of how these stories will be accessed and promoted in the future. A story about my country was relayed to me by someone I have never met who lives in Massachusetts.

2/ National Champions

These are the newspapers/media outlets that will survive by focusing on key national issues that are not of interest to a wider global audience. Their stories will include stories at a national politics levels and investigative journalism focused on national politics and local corporate issues as well as sport which appear to drive a huge amount of “eyeball” to use the jargon.

I think that the model of ow this will work will be far more varied. Possibilities include the creation of crowd funded journalism models where people agree to fund specific investigative journalism. They also include the loyal readership of such a newspaper/media outlet being an asset that can drive revenues into the larger global entities that survive and generate income by doing so.

3/Local/Specialised

This is going to be much more fragmented and localised and also far more prone to non profit business models. The development of web based technologies has made both the creation of content, and the connection to an audience much more effective and has vastly reduced the costs. That will allow a continual flowering of new models and possibilities.

A journalist friend of mine is always talking to me about how important a strong and independent media is to the strength of our countries and our communities. I totally agree with him but a “you will miss us when we are gone” has never been a great value proposition.

There is going to be lots of churn and extinction in this space and I think we all have a responsibility to think about how this will all work. I for one am keen to support crowd funded investigative journalism models as part of my contribution.

Paul Higgins

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2 thoughts on “Which of the Dinosaurs will Survive?

  1. I am surprised you think The Guardian will survive.

    In the UK it has lost money hand over fist for years, in part because it is yet to find a way to properly make money out of its web content. What has kept the Guardian group afloat in the UK has been one small part of it – AutoTrader magazine.

    Australia has a smaller pool of middle class liberals than England (the base of The Guardian’s readership in the UK) Unless it is going to charge for its website down under, they better look to buy a profitable car magazine, and quick!

    • Hi Paul

      Thanks for the comment.

      There is a big difference between “may survive” and “will survive”. I think that the Guardian is doing some interesting things which may assist them in surviving. However even the ones that do interesting things will struggle for survival in a world that is going to see a lot of “extinctions”. The losses you refer to reinforces my point that deep pockets will be needed but even that is “necessary but not sufficient”.

      I think your comment about car mags is a good – providing specialist content to a defined interest group is one method of survival.

      Cheers

      Paul

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