Online Media – Where Next?
Why Print Media Need to Adapt
by Terry Gordon
Terry Gordon started his career in the Marketing and Advertising Industry, before deciding to move into training and consultancy. Much of his work over the years has been concerned with helping small and medium-sized businesses. He has worked in further and higher education as a head of department and also lectures in business related topics at one of the UK’s leading management training centres.
As the number of people with Internet access continues to grow, a major dilemma facing many newspaper and magazine publishers is how they should react to this market? In particular, they are asking what the long-term implications are for traditional printed media. This article will look at the current situation and at some of the online options available.
According to figures from the National Statistics Office, the proportion of households in the UK with access to a home computer (in 1999) was around 32%. Although this will continue to rise, it is still a long way short of the 100% coverage achieved by traditional media such as newspapers, magazines, television and radio.
Despite this, media owners and publishers cannot ignore the Internet as a publishing and advertising option. It is already a sizeable audience and, in the not too distant future, it will be as common in households as television is today.
The question facing publishers, therefore, is not ‘whether to have an online version of their publication’, but rather ‘what format should their online version adopt’?
Many publications are already online and most have opted for a Web site that is effectively an advertisement for the publication itself. Such sites usually give general information about the publication, including samples of articles and features, but their main purpose is to increase circulation and readership of the printed version. Indeed, most of these sites offer the option of subscribing to the publication at a discounted rate.
This is a useful ‘penetration’ strategy, as it gives publishers an ‘online’ presence and also allows them to evolve the Web site in line with changes in technology and Internet usage patterns. In a sense it is an insurance policy against the long-term possibility of a truly, ‘paperless’ society.
Is Going Virtual the Answer?
It might seem like a logical development to have a ‘virtual’ newspaper or magazine that you can subscribe to and access only on the Internet. However, there are problems with this option.
Firstly, not everybody has access to the Internet and despite the phenomenal growth in usage, a publication that was only available online would still exclude over half the population, in the UK alone. Conversely, the online publication could attract a much wider international readership.
There is also the ‘convenience’ factor of a real publication. Quite simply, you can pick it up and put it down in seconds, rather than having to switch on, log on, get online and find what you’re looking for on a computer. However, one area of ‘convenience’ where the online publication does score highly is in its ability to retrieve archive material. Users can easily search for a specific edition or even a specific article.
Another key issue is whether people would be willing to pay a subscription to an online publication? There are so many sites already providing ‘free’ access to similar information that it is unlikely that the public would pay, unless the information on the site was very specific or valuable and not available on other sites.
The only feasible option, therefore, would seem to be a ‘free’ site, running alongside the printed version of the publication. This would mean losing out on traditional cover price revenue, from those who choose to visit the Web site rather than buying the printed edition, but this could be offset by advertising revenue from the site. Revenue could also be generated by having premium information/services on the site for which a fee would be payable.
A variation of this would be to have a Web-based publication running alongside the printed version, but with different content. This would still be a ‘free’ site, but is less likely to affect circulation of the printed version. Existing readers, visiting the site, would see it as an extension of the original and new readers, who do not wish to pay for a printed publication, can read the online version. This should result in an overall increase in readership, particularly if the Web site is advertised in the magazine and vice-versa.
In conclusion, it would appear that the best option, in the short to medium term, is a ‘free’, Web-based version of the newspaper or magazine, with different content to the printed version. Each would advertise the other. The online version should offer additional services such as a search facility for back issues and articles, but could charge a fee or subscription for more specialised services. The primary source of income would be from advertising revenue.
A Glimpse of the Future
At present there is a large and stable market for printed newspapers and magazines, especially among the 30s. However, a whole new generation of children and teenagers are growing up in a world where many things that were traditionally printed are now accessed on the Internet. At the same time, there is also a steady move away from ‘subscription-based’ sites towards free access.
In the light of this ‘revolution’, there will come a time, within the next few decades, where the demand for traditional newspapers and magazines might become so low, that it will not be financially viable to print them. Newspapers and magazines will still exist, but only on the Internet. Revenue traditionally obtained from cover prices and subscription fees will be completely replaced by revenue from online advertisers. The battle for readership will be as hot as ever.
Individual publications will be tailored to the needs of increasingly fragmented markets, even down to the level of specific articles, features, services and even advertisements, designed around the needs of the individual reader.
The publishers who will cope best will be those who are already running a Web-based version of their publication alongside the printed one. They are, therefore, in an ideal position to evolve and change with the technology. These are the publishers who will survive.
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