Newspapers Have Made This Bed -- Shouldn't They Sleep In It?

It's always with a heavy heart that any journalist has to write about the demise of newspapers and magazines. Those working for news organisations will always post a bunch of comments and stats that people love a physical newspaper or magazine in their hand and doomsayers are overplaying it.

All I can ever do is say look to the figures. And today we have the added help of those figures coming from the industry's own News Media Association (NMA), via Deloitte. 

So here is the figure that is hard to swallow, and it comes direct from the NMA. In the decade running up to 2015 the UK's local and national newspapers (excluding the Financial Times) saw revenue roughly halve to just over five billion pounds. There you have it. Newspapers are making half the money they used, and the only area in which revenues are significantly growing is digital -- and there are a whole heap of issues for them there. 

The very obvious one is that millions of unique digital users do not make up for revenue lost through declining circulations and advertising. The more worrisome aspect is that where the growth is coming from -- in digital -- people are not going direct to newspapers and magazine publishers. Instead, three-quarters of newspaper visits come through search, social and other third-party sites, while just a quarter of traffic is direct.

When digital is the area you're looking at to make up for lost print revenue, it's not good news to hear that three-quarters of the traffic you receive is being recommended by another site. OK -- you could take the position that it's great for third-party brands such as Google to send you lots of eyeballs via SEO. You could also look at it this way -- it's pretty alarming that people are brand-agnostic and not choosing your coverage as a preferred news provider.

You might also wonder how dangerous it is to attempt to earn increased revenue in an area dominated by the BBC and then, to a lesser extent, Facebook. Everyone else in the UK is just an "also-ran" when it comes to news media attention. 

The NMA report concludes that the sector needs help and support to carry on funding top-rate journalism. The report cites, in particular, that the sector needs protection from unnamed third parties that don't create news but benefit greatly from it. For this, you can pretty much assume they mean Google, and most likely Facebook too. 

The harsh reality, however, is that many sites have made their content available for free and have encouraged it to be shared on social. Lots of Web site traffic means good SEO traffic via Google, and lots of shares gets eyeballs via Facebook. It's the newspaper industry that has encouraged this route through to their content. I truly have no idea what they can now do about it other than the very obvious steps of relying more on native or charging subscriptions, and possibly both. 

If newspapers keep on chasing the big numbers they will simply find that they are coming through third parties and there is the likelihood of a revenue share. So they surely can't rely on third-party digital exposure and expect it for free, can they? 

If a newspaper wants to end this, it's very simple. Drop the share buttons from every article and put a "do not follow" tag on every article so it's not ranked by Google. That will stop your content from being discovered elsewhere. It will also send the traffic figures they have been so vehemently chasing crashing through the floor. But it will also keep them "protected" from the third parties they don't name. Is that what the NMA is calling for? If so, this is something every newspaper could do today.

I honestly don't think the NMA knows what it wants, but it feels it has to cry out as newspaper get exactly what they have voted for.

Next story loading loading..