Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Investigating online business models. Or, where else is the money? (Online, that is)

Over the past four years, as my colleagues and I have worked with hundreds of editors and high-potential journalists to build their capacity and confidence to tackle the challenges of Digital, one question kept coming up,‘…but there’s no money online?’

Of course, that’s not entirely true. There’s a great deal of money being made online. Just ask Google. Or eBay. What is true is that the mainstream media aren’t getting very much of it.

So, for the last few years I’ve been looking into the online business models of the largest newspapers in Britain 66 cities and have only recently been in a position to share some of the findings.

* 12 September, I presented a paper based on the 2008 results at the second bi-annual Future of Journalism Conference 2009, held at Cardiff University. An edited version of that article is to be included in a special edition of the journal Journalism Practice.

* 28 October, I summarised the findings at the Autumn meeting of the Digital Editors Network and later that evening continued the discussion when I chaired the 13th Journalism Leaders Forum on the theme, Paywalls: Build them, break them,or look beyond them.

* 16 November, I presented the first comparision between the 2008 and 2009 findings as part of a session on new revenue models at the UK Society of Editors' annual conference held at Stansted. The session audio has been posted and PaidContent:UK reported the presentation here. My slides are below.
* 2 December, Martha Stone of the Shaping the Future of Newspaper project and I presented findings from some related research, the World Newspaper Future & Change Study 2009, at the 62 World Newspaper Congress in Hyderabad. The findings clearly show that publishers everywhere are now actively looking for new revenue streams beyond advertising and paid content - and aim to invest in training their staff to do so better, faster.

Right now, I'm swimming in data - including a comparison between the mobile strategies employed by regional newspapers and those of the leading national papers, as well as a look into what journalists do after being laid off (or leaping) - and hope to soon make time to write it up for conferences and industry fora. And, of course, I'll post updates here too.

PS: I welcome comments, suggestions and am always interested in collaboration with others working in the same field. So, please be in touch.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Future & Change Study: SA newspaper executives highlight employee motivation as the industry's greatest challenge

A survey of senior South African newspaper executives found that employee motivation was the single most significant challenge facing the industry – and that organisations needed to improve competencies across all levels in order to meet future challenges effectively.

Other findings from the exploratory study, which I conducted amongst 12 executives in October and November 2008, include:

Greatest competition to come from other print products. Free newspapers were expected the greatest competitor to traditional newspapers in the next five years, followed by content on mobile phones and online news sites compiled by the large search engines such as Google and Yahoo.

Scope for significant cost reductions. The majority of respondents believed that newspapers did not operate as efficiently as they could and that significant costs reductions could be achieved without reducing quality. All the respondents to that question felt there was some room for cutting costs with the vast majority – 8 of 9 respondents - saying that there was potential to cut costs by more than 6% and a third saying that operational costs could be cut between 20-30% with little impact.

Companies will need to diversify their revenue streams. All respondents to this question agreed that newspapers will need to consider earning revenues from non-traditional sources, with 8 of 9 executives saying newspaper companies will need to look elsewhere for up to a third of their revenues.

Loss of experienced staff and out-dated technology have hurt companies.
When asked to reflect on the changes that had occurred in the last 3-5 years and what newsroom loss has hurt the most, the respondents highlighted two concerns:
Technology - not having the appropriate knowledge to keep up. “Not being up-to-date with the internet”
Qualified staff – losing experienced staff to bigger publications with new staff not being up to scratch. “Loss of quality journalists, level of new trainees is shocking” “Experienced middle management” “Experience”

Work is needed to prepare for the challenges ahead. All respondents felt companies were ready for the challenges ahead: 8 of the 9 respondents felt that companies were no more than 50% prepared. Respondents felt there was a great need for developing middle-management , particularly in the editorial and advertising departments with 8 of 9 respondents saying work in this area was very or extremely important.

What is the single most important change that has to be implemented in your newspaper over the next year? Responses to this question varied greatly, but could be considered to fit into two broad themes: developing staff and systems to implement multimedia news operations, and developing management that can effectively streamline operations for greater efficiency.

Additional highlights from the report are available in this short report.

The study is now being expanded globally in collaboration with Martha Stone of the World Assocation of Newspapers-IFRA and Erik Wilberg of the Norwegian School of Management.

Senior editorial and commercial executives from newspaper companies have been invited to participate and, as a way of thanking them for completing the 20-question survey, the researchers are undertaking to send them the final 2009 World Newspaper Future & Change Study report.

The results of the survey will also be analysed for a Shaping the Future of the Newspaper project report for the WAN-IFRA, to be published in December 2009.
  • If you'd like to participate, please click HERE to take survey, which should take no more than 20 minutes to complete. [If you are not the correct person to answer the survey, please forward it to the appropriate person in your company.] And, of course, if you have any comments or questions, don’t hesitate to contact me at: FPNel @ uclan . ac . uk

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Investing in Journalism Innovation: towards a petition for Government support for training

Evidence that the local & regional newspaper industry (amongst others) are in crisis isn't hard to find.

Just take a quick glance at the Media Guardian timeline of media job cuts (below). And while, as Ian Burrell pointed out recently in The Independent, not everyone thinks it matters. Others, like me, do.

And in those circles the view that Government has a more active role to play in the way ahead is also gaining support, as recent comments by the culture secretary and the establishment of the new Local Media Alliance) show.

However, while any interventions should necessarily help ensure the industry survives the cyclical economic downturn, that's not enough. The industry needs support for the structural changes essential if it is to thrive in the 'Networked Age'.

Or, to draw on an old adage: Government should not only give the hungry industry some fish and ensure that the legislative environment is conducive for fishing - but it should also help the industry build the knowledge to devise new ways of fishing.

Training and re-training newsrooms for the (not so) new media media environment is certainly happening (my colleagues and I are engaged in a quite a bit of it ourselves).

But it's not happening enough. And it's not happening fast enough. And, with few exceptions, it's not happening broadly enough - particularly at the higher levels of organisations (as Hugh Stevenson and I have noted before).

With that in mind, I've been circulating an idea amongst some colleagues, which I'm now considering posting as an e-petition to No 10.

But before I do, I'd welcome any feedback or advice on the proposal which would read something like:

"We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to…enable media companies to invest in building the much-needed capacity to innovate- including editorial and commercial management skills - by providing corporate tax relief for training of up to 1% of payroll per annum.

This investment, which would be subject to review after three years, would supplement, not replace, support for digital skills training available through current initiatives such as Skillset ."

What could this mean?

Well, a back-of-envelope calculation based on the premise that payroll comprises around 40% of the budget of a typical newspaper (cf the Independent). And let's work with a modest operation of 100 people that, using Frederic Filloux's rough calculation, means a payroll of around £5million. That would make around £500 available per person to invest in capacity building.

That may not be a great deal - but, I suspect, that it's a great deal more than most training budgets are likely to have right now. And would go a long way to helping the cash-starved news organisations build their capacity to innovate.

How does that sound?

NOTE: It's probably worth pointing out this is my personal blog and that these views are my own and that I'm am not speaking for my employer. Or anyone else.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Gathering the (South African) Media Milestones

I kicked it off in 1994 with the first edition of Writing for the Media. And continued it with the second edition. But dropped it when I put together the third edition.

But today, after get yet another query about the history of the South African press, I've decided to (re)build the media milestones on Dipity. And to invite others to join the project.

So, if you'd like to contribute, just pop me a note.