The Grim Reaper takes another step

The slide in ad revenues in the newspaper industry continued in the third quarter of this year, as the NAA numbers show a 28 percent decrease in the third quarter of 2009.  It’s the 13th consecutive quarter of declines and prospects for the worst year for ad revenues in more than 20 years.

While the reality looks bleak, NAA officials saw a silver lining. “”There may not be great visibility into 2010 and beyond, but the broad consensus is that the worst has passed,”  NAA president John Sturm said. “Throughout the downturn, newspaper companies have made extraordinary progress in transforming their business models, positioning themselves as leading players in a multiplatform media universe where their superior audience engagement, content generation, and value for advertisers will ensure a successful future.”

Newspapers have been throwing people and products overboard over the past several years to lighten the load to stay afloat. But now they are selling their slimmed down products as a “multiplatform media universe?”

Looks more like lipstick on a pig.

Through the recession, publisher still haven’t address building readership and community that adapt and conform to new readers’ styles. Publishers are still focusing on building mass audiences for single products, when readers are turning their backs to “mass” packages. I look at my iPhone and see missed opportunities to build revenue through a specialized product (most newspapers are giving away their iPhone apps, which is a shame. It could have been a great revenue opportunity.)

Instead of making one “universal” product,  publishers should be instead be focusing on smaller products and delivery methods targeted for microcommunities. Build enough focused products and readers, and you can have a larger cumulative audience than you had with your ‘mass’ product … plus each one has potential for growth.

Build readers, and advertisers will follow. Target audiences, and you’ll get advertisers you may not have attracted before.

But, in the meantime, Rome continues to burn.

UPDATE, NOV. 28:  Alan Mutter, in his Reflections of a Newsosaur blog, shares the sentiment that the numbers continue to spiral down, and offers some interesting stats to back it up. Click here to read.

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The ‘you go first’ dilemma

Media blogger Alan Mutter hit the nail on the head in his latest posting, noting that the death of newspapers won’t be on the hands of disenchanted readers or reluctant advertisers, but at the feet of the press owners.

Mutter calls out the elephant in the room: The lack of innovation from publishers – few, if any, who are willing to try something new. The vast majority are waiting for someone else to find the golden egg, that new revenue model that will bring them back into prosperity. Once it’s found, then you’ll see the industry follow like lemmings to adopt it.

Problem is, how many will still be alive when that is found?

It’s ironic that an industry that has been a champion for change in the public good is so adverse to change for itself.

In the midst of a storm, Gannett builds a rudder

One of the things that worries me most about the newspaper industry is that, once the recession is over and the profits return revenue losses cease, many companies will be scratching their heads saying “OK, now where do we go?”

Gannett Co. seems to have recognized that with the recent creation of its list of  ‘content priorities’  to focus its editorial mission in the wake of numerous reductions of editorial resources and personnel. Gannett officials describe it as a way to “get our swagger back,” but, more importantly, it gives the chain a road map to follow to keep it viable and potentially successful in maintaining current readers as well as in building new ones.

The priorities range from improving watchdog journalism to repositioning its print and web operations to building Sunday audiences and being community leaders. I particularly love the revelation that newspapers are no longer a breaking news medium, therefore focus should be on developing and building content that differentiates them from other media. This is something every print organization needs to recognize, but I’d bet very few are willing to admit it.

Gannett’s statements are no means a guarantee to success. There are a few shortcomings, such as developing new products and methods to deliver content to niche audiences (thats readers, not advertisers. Build readers, and advertisers will follow). But in an industry where there is no clear-cut model for reversing decades of customer decline, too many are sitting and waiting for someone else to come up with the answer.

At least the Gannett Co. has built itself a rudder to weather the storm and find safe port in calmer waters.