If you restrict your reading to online blogs and journalists, you might be forgiven for thinking that print media is dead. Many point to declining advertising revenues as killing papers (although conveniently ignoring the fact that advertising revenues have dropped pretty much everywhere online where jobs are also being shed.)
Back in the real word though, there seem to be more newspapers than ever in London and a surprising amount of innovation in the industry. There is no doubt that this is an industry that is facing massive changes but it is ridiculous to write it off. Print media people are highly commercial animals and while they may not ‘get it’ straight away every time, when they do, they will fight for it – hard.
A few years ago many commentators ridiculed the idea of the FT forcing people to pay for online content but it is a strategy that has worked very well for them. Many wrote the idea of free newspapers off when they were launched in London but there are a bewildering number, most leveraging existing publishing houses.
Of course there is no doubt though that print media has reached an historic but critical evolutionary point. Print businesses are severely pressured. Declining subscription and advertising revenues are becoming the norm across the industry. The growth of user-generated content, citizen-journalism, blogs, Twitter and the real-time web have all been responsible for forcing changes on the industry. While print media is under sustained attack from the web, some of the most popular web-based news sites only make a small fraction of their revenue from the web making any possible transition painful and complex.
The Daily Telegraph and Guardian are doing innovative things online that could position them as leaders of the emerging media pack and their unusual (non-public) ownership allows them to do things that public companies might find difficult.
While many on the web expound the virtues of ‘free’ news, Rupert and James Murdoch announces that News Corp will be going in precisely the opposite direction. You can guarantee that this is going to be the closely monitored moves in the print media industry in the next year. If this shows any signs of working, and helping a move away from advertising based business models, it will be followed rapidly by other players. The more that do it, the more it is likely to succeed although there is then a possibility that this will, in the UK at least, call into question the BBC News site which would not be able to charge or take advertising. It could then become a sort of government funded monopoly.
At the same time but at the other end of the spectrum, Y-Combinator, the best known and innovative incubator in the world, announces it is actively seeking start ups that can help redefine the future of journalism and media. The point where incumbents and upstarts meet is going to be a very, very interesting place to observe.
Interesting times, but a long, long way from being the end of the game.