Social networks are a waste of time for traditional media, as sending readers away from your own page is not a good idea for publishers, whose biggest problem is to keep the readers on their websites, says media consultant and analyst Jim Chisholm, who advises the world’s leading media organizations on strategy and development in business and practice.
The challenges in securing the profits for traditional media, the threat of extinction for newspapers and the future trends in the media industry were among the questions Chisholm discussed ahead of the International Future Media Forum.
Do you consider logical the trend of readers moving from print media to Internet, while the profits are not following them?
We are not seeing anything new at all and we shouldn’t be surprised about what is happening. The profit historically has been in the print product, but so were the costs. Therefore it must be possible to make good profits in a digital world – and there are some companies that successfully do.
But there are some critical issues. The first one is that the intensity of consumption of digital products is far lower than that of the print products, and that’s why they find it so hard to get revenues.
Publishers are successfully getting people to read our products in the digital world, but what they are not doing is making them read those products often enough and spend enough time with them.
So you basically think there is a direct connection between the time users spend with media and the profits?
Absolutely. If you look at how each newspaper copy is distributed, about 2.6 people read it in print and about 1.3 read it in digital format – these are the average figures for Europe. Of course, there are the exceptions like The New York Times, The Guardian and so on.
If you see, how often in a month do people visit media, they visit the print papers 16 times, while the for digital papers it’s just six. At that time they look at 36 pages in print and just 3.5 in digital. Over a month, print continues to deliver over 50 times the audience intensity of newspaper digital websites.
So the net result is that people are far more likely to see an advertisement in print than in digital, and they are far more likely to pay for the content in print than in digital. This is why it is going to be so difficult – and is difficult now – to make revenues
Does the major challenge for traditional media lays in the area of social networks, UGC or anything else?
I think that social networks are a waste of time, a passing fad. When you see the invitation on the top of the homepage to go away from the newspaper immediately and to go to Facebook first – to me, it’s really dumb. Basically what you’re doing is you’re sending your readers off, while your biggest problem is to keep them on your website.
I have a lot of worries about the social networks. I also personally do not believe that the idea about discovering the content on Facebook and getting readers from there really works.
UGC is a completely different world. This content needs to be well-managed, needs to be well-presented. We need far more opportunities in terms of data journalism and getting through the thousands of messages. And that’s going to be a real breakthrough, I think.
At the same time, it’s going to need editorial resources. There was a feeling during last couple of years that the journalism was under threat because of UGC. But I think the opposite – UGC is not going to replace professional journalism.
Are you going to speak about those issues on Future Media Forum? What else are you going to discuss with the participants of this event?
I will talk about the reading intensity – print purchase and reading frequency, the number of visitors relative to circulation, the number of pages the user visits and the amount of time he spends there. Small increments in each step have a major effect on the outcome.
If the Russian digital media specialists want to attract the users and consequently to secure the profits, they have to deal scientifically with the issue of reading behavior. For example, many websites are extremely difficult to navigate, and the digital editors do not admit it. Sometimes you have just to look at the websites to see why some of them work and some – not.
One of the things I’m working on separately with Moscow is a project where we compare the creative aspects of the website (the way it looks, photographs, navigation) with its statistics.
Another thing we need is to spend far more on marketing and far more on our customers to be loyal.
Is there a chance for print newspapers to find their way back to the readers?
They are unlikely to make a significant recovery in their current form. We are likely to see more specialism, so more papers in print business. Localization remains strong. But the chance to attract the young readers to the new print form is actually nil, particularly in a country like Russia, where the penetration of the newspapers is very low indeed.
However, the huge opportunities are in tablets, e-readers etc. The reading behavior on these devices is very similar to the print products, and here it is possible to get the profits from working similarly. Le Monde reports that reading times of eReader applications are as high as those of printed newspapers. American publishers have found that subscription conversion and retention levels for eReaders are higher than for print products. Finally, a German study found that older people read faster on the iPad than in print.
Now about 1 percent of newspaper digital revenues are from mobile. The reason is that the handheld devices have limitations in terms of navigation, and advertising presentation. But mobile offers dramatic audience and revenue potential, but requires new medium concepts – repurposing current content won’t be enough.
Which trends in media development we will see in the coming five years?
The first trend is an absolute exposure in usage of tablets, e-readers and other devices.
We will also see the more meta-forms of navigation, because the navigation on mobile substantially differs from the screen of computer. That makes a big difference in terms of how the media is consumed.
I also think we will see a new generation of search, built around the tools of data journalism. It will be far more granular and intuitive, than, for example, Google is, and it will empower our reading and knowledge experience. Those things will drive the new digital world.