The future of newspapers

The future of newspapers is an old debate, but the terrible events in Japan throw a spotlight on how the role of newspapers is changing – or perhaps needs to change.
Buying my copy of the Sunday Times yesterday, I was shown pictures and news that I had already seen or heard – on TV, on the radio and of course online.
But as well as the slightly redundant news, there was the analysis and explanation that can be done so much better in newspapers than it can on TV or on the radio.  TV is powerful, but the type of analysis it can deliver is inevitably different and in many ways lighter than the analysis press, with its ability to deliver extensive articles as well as diagrams that can be pored over, can deliver.
Online of course combines the benefits of TV (video) with the benefits of press (long form text) – and adds a few others all of its own (e.g. the ability to manipulate data such as making calculations, buying products or playing games).
The disadvantages of online come down largely to convenience (who wants to lug a laptop around with them instead of a newspaper on the morning commute?) but also to functionality (paper makes a pretty good interface which you can for instance scrawl on or tear off).
Tablet PCs change all that. For example, newspaper iPad apps (and we will inevitably soon be seeing their equivalent for Android devices) can mimic paper’s advantages because they potentially allow the user to annotate pages and to “cut out” pieces of text such as ads or articles. OK, they can’t be folded in quite the same way as a newspaper but the 10 inch screen is still pretty light and convenient.
And that’s the opportunity for newspapers. Tablet PC apps from newspapers that allow updated news (like TV and online), long form text and convenient functionality (like paper), and additional interactive functionality (like the web), combined with trusted brands (i.e. credible analysis from well-known reporters) will be a pretty hard combination to beat.
And not only that, it does increasingly appear that people are much more willing to pay for content on a tablet PC app than they are for content from a website.
So don’t write the press off just yet. Paper may well be (slowly) dying as an interface for news, but the tablet PC revolution may well be the market change that secures the future of newspaper brands.
PS. My tips for must-have mobile app functionality
1. Ability to interact with content
• Write notes on content
• Take clippings, save images etc into a scrapbook
• Zoom in on images, pan across images, swivel images
• Enlarge font
2. Ability to share content and opinions
• Share with other websites e.g. twitter, facebook
• Share via email, chat and IM
• Share opinions on the app via comments pages or polls
3. Appropriate content
• Customisable content
• Constantly updated content
• Extra content compared to web and paper
• Different horizontal and vertical experiences – e.g. horizontal might mimic paper product while vertical has different layout and extra content
4. Good usability
• Navigation: e.g. clickable table of content, thumbnail images, click for previous article/next article
• Text only and images only versions
• Video and audio with appropriate play controls
• Full screen slide show/article view
• Gestures in interface (which should be intuitive) e.g. rapid page turn using gesture
• Search functionality
• Content viewable offline; ability to browse content before a full download; ability to download some but not all content
• Ability to click through to ads or shopping (but while staying within environment of the app)

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10 Cs of paid content

What is it about the letter C?

A few weeks ago I discovered that the letter “C” seemed to have a strange significance for DAB. And now I find the same for paid content!

Talking to a friend who has the unenviable task of doubling (non-subscription) content revenues for a large media owner, we got to thinking about how media owners would be able to charge for content in the future.

Paid content – the holy grail of online media owners!

And for run of the mill (i.e. non-specialist) media owners like consumer magazines and newspapers, it’s an elusive goal.

Just look at The Times. Last month Beehive City reported that The Times received fewer than 1.5 million uniques in August. 

And while this is a good deal better than some people predicted, initial paid subscription rates were reported to be low, despite a 30 day trial for only £1.

So what are the key issues for media owners to address when delivering their paid for content services?

That’s where the letter “C” comes in!

Collation – collecting content that is right for the target, which is I suppose pretty self evident.

Curation – organising, maintaining and controlling the quality of content; a harder one, this. The task of maintaining (including keeping content up to date) is potentially a big task, while organising content needs more than a good search algorithm, especially if media owners want to increase satisfaction through the serendiptous discovery of content people are not searching for.
 
Contextualisation – giving relevance to content and making sense of it is also important. A story like Rooney’s reported spat with Man U could make for much more entertaining reading if some of the surrounding issues concerning the long term success and viability of the club are made available.

Culling – it’s important to get rid of apparently related but in fact irrelevant content that gets in the way of a good story.

Customisation – making it right for the individual reading the story. NOthing new about that as a concept of course.

Connection – enabling the user to interact with the content in imaginative ways that go beyond opinion surveys: a key differentiator and a way of engaging them and developing their loyalty.

Collaboration – enabling users to contribute to and comment on stories won’t be the future of media, but it is (and has been for a long time) an important part of most media experiences. After all The Times letters page is one of the more popular parts of the newspaper.

Communication – enabling the user to share with others, in a way that people increasingly expect based on their use of social media sites.

Convergence – ensuring the journey works across different devices; and that doesn’t mean delivering the same content in a way that is merely usable on different devices; it means delivering an experience that is appropriate for different devices – perhaps with more location based information added to mobile delivery and more interactive content added to content for PC basd delivery.

Credibility – ensuring the source is trusted, and the brand isn’t damaged by the loosening of editorial control that some of the Cs may imply.

That’s a lot of Cs! It won’t be easy…

iPad – lovely, but it won’t save the newspaper industry

Everyone else is doing it, so I guess I’d better. Here goes…

I’m sure it’s a lovely notebook. Except for the fact that it doesn’t have a webcam; and it can only handle one application at a time; and it can’t handle flash. And it will probably be a rip off price in the UK, like everything else.

But it looks lovely in an Apply sort of way and I’d probably “get” it more if I was given one to play with.

I’m still disappointed though. There was a lot of hype about the iPad being a “kindle killer” and a device that would revolutionise the newspaper industry. I can’t see it doing either of these things.

Unlike the iPad, the Kindle has a very special screen – easy to read in a way that computer screens are not. With a Kindle you feel inclined to read text – not just scan it.

Computer screens are hard to read – hence the need for text to be short and easy to absorb. And because of the way people react physically to current computer screen technology they are never going to be a place where you will comnfortably read long newspaper articles.  Kindle-type screens (sometimes called e-ink or e-paper) might well be. 

Of course the Kindle isn’t ideal for reading a newspaper either. What you really need is a big screen that allows you to “surf” the page in the way that (paper) newspaper readers do, letting their eyes get caught by interesting headlines (not sure the 9.7 inch DX is really big enough to do this, although anything larger might be cumbersome if it didn’t fold).  Oh, and a screen that you can write on (to make notes or fill in the crossword).

The iPad is, well, a bit more than a big iPod Touch. But without an e-ink screen I can’t see it having an effect on the newspaper industry. Because I can’t see many people rushing to access newspapers on an iPad in a way that would replicate their currently established behaviour of paying to access paper based content . The experience would just be too different.

Of course it might well be a different story for magazines…