In an interview last week with The Media Briefing, Trinity Mirror’s CEO Simon Fox commented “You will not be successful trying to charge for straightforward news”. I searched, but was unable to find, a follow-up quote from him stating unequivocally that the Pope was indeed a Catholic, although to be fair he did come up with something similar – “Content is at the heart of what we do. Without great content, you have no audience”. Whether this content he referred to was news, classifieds or money back coupons he failed to specify.
Regional newspapers started digging their own holes long before digital publishing. Once we did pay for local news, and we generally had a choice of at least two newspapers to purchase. Then newspapers decided to get greedy, and compete for advertisers based on circulation, and the method they used to gain those extra numbers was not to increase the content quality, but to give their product away. Free. No charge. ABC’s became VFD’s. Reduce revenue streams by 50%, from two to one. Genius.
Digital publishing presented a chance to reverse that strategic blindness, but the regional press has never really been good at joined up strategy and the opportunity was missed well over ten years ago, as it was in most areas of publishing.
From a position of power they allowed RightMove, Autotrader and the numerous jobs boards to take away lucrative advertising revenue and, this is probably an irrelevance in comparison but I’ll mention it anyway – whatever happened to Births Marriages and Deaths? Surely Hatches, Matches and Dispatches could be optimised to produce revenue in the digital age?
Now, the regional press is strategically adrift, still fire fighting mistakes made over the past decade. Trinity Mirror, Archant and Local World all claim to have the answers, but the truth is none have embraced digital with any confidence – maybe Local World is closer than most..
Do I have the answers? Probably not, although pay me and I would probably come up with a few. One has to be stop the conference sound-bite rhetoric and start a root and branch strategic examination of everything from the business models to the actually sites – content, navigation, user experience. Do that, and revenue opportunities will present themselves.
The fact that in 2014 a CEO of a major regional publisher is still talking in the future tense about organising his newsrooms in a ‘digital-first way’ is nothing short of incredible, and a clear indication that there is a long way to go before this once great publishing cornerstone gets its house in order.
As I write, the ‘latest travel news’ page of a local site is reporting an incident that happened 3 days ago. Shouldn’t someone in authority be getting angry at that? Maybe the senior management are too busy putting together powerpoint slides for the next conference to notice.