Hopefully, Steady Path Ahead For Newspapers
By Jim Conaghan
NetNewsCheck, December 18, 2014
The calendar turns toward year’s end and news media are filled with lists of the bests, year-end roundups and predictions for 2015. The lists and roundups are the easy part — the predictions slightly more taxing, requiring additional thought.
In truth, prognostications are a bit of a mug’s game, given the fallibility of even the most intelligent souls and their artificial counterparts. Nevertheless the seasonal soothsayers plunge onward, fulfilling their charge, searching for the new, the creative, the surprising.
Some forecasters take a modest approach. They absorbed lessons from past experience about the hazards of making imaginative extrapolations, even at the risk of disappointing their audience. Perhaps Microsoft co-founder Nathan Myhrvold said it best: “Nobody wants a prediction that the future will be more or less like the present, even if that is, statistically speaking, an excellent prediction.”
Hence, the most likely scenario is one you are already familiar with, a déjà vu experience.
For newspaper media executives, some expectations for 2015 were previewed at the annual UBS Global Media and Communications Conference, in New York City in early December. There, themes surrounding digital revenue in its many forms and new opportunities in audience development were at the forefront, as they have been throughout this year.
The explosive growth in the mobile audience consuming newspaper content is likely to continue, given the substantial audience growth that occurred in 2014. Over the past 12 months, many newspaper operations reconfigured how their digital content is delivered, using responsive design to serve content in a more attractive, compelling way to all users, especially those on smartphones and tablets. Mobile advertising revenue to date has been small and lagged audience expansion, but the growth curve is beginning to resemble the proverbial hockey stick.
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In a related way, revenue from pureplay, digital-only advertisers has been on a double-digit percentage increase pattern for the past few years and shows no sign of slowdown.
As newspaper media seek ways to deepen engagement with local communities, creating and hosting specialty events is a developing revenue stream. It has already proven popular for newspapers such as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Denver Post, among others, and it is likely that more newspapers will explore how to leverage the event business in their local markets.
Finding new niches in local markets, both for reader and advertising revenue, will continue. The Dallas Morning News will launch a third luxury lifestyle magazine in 2015, focused on home designs, furnishings and elegant living. Niche offerings on the digital side will expand, as exemplified by the Omaha World-Herald this past year with niche sites on high school sports and outdoor living.
Of course, a more-of-the-same trends expectation is bracketed with the usual caveat from the oracles handbook: the vision in the crystal ball is good only if something unexpected does not happen. In techno-speak that is known as an exogenous factor — something from outside the existing system, a haymaker punch that turns the paper forecast into confetti. Financial crises, new economic bubbles, technology developments, wars — all of those and more are in the “unless something happens” category.
So let’s look forward to a prosperous, and peaceful, new year. Cheers!
Jim Conaghan, a regular CrowdCheck contributor, is VP of research and industry analysis at the Newspaper Association of America.