A girl holds The Washington Post of Monday, Ju...

The Washington Post of Monday, July 21st 1969  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As close followers of this blog will know I recently jumped from the commercial radio industry and back into the regional press industry after 18 years away. I loved every minute of radio and would highly recommend it as a career to anyone.

But being back in press has been great too – and I’ve learned so much over the last 6 or 7 months or so.

The Good

Its HUGE! The rumours of press decline, while clearly founded on the reality of the situation, do give something of a distorted perspective. Yes, its taken a beating, but its not in quite the perilous state some commentators will have you believe

Press still accounts for more than £2 billion in advertising revenue every year. For context, that’s four times more than commercial radios £500 million or so, and way more than Facebook manages in the UK at around £350 – 400 million. It’s still one of the biggest elements of the marketing mix for many businesses  alongside digital marketing and TV.

No one reads newspapers anymore right? Clearly not. If you take into account the newspaper brands online audiences across the country, and indeed the world, and at my groups news papers particularly, audiences are very healthy indeed.

The South Wales Evening Posts websites are currently enjoying around 40% yr on yr growth – terrific figures!

OK not in print terms maybe, but combine all the websites and mobile sites and newspapers and magazines and you are talking about a very powerful medium, as powerful as its ever been.

Clearly the trick is to monetise that audience. But then again, Twitter and Facebook and everyone in between is feeling that precise same pinch.

And there are green shoots for press too. In the US a recent report talked about a 5% increase in ‘circulation’ revenues – first time for a decade maybe? And guess what, its driven by combined digital and print subscription bundles.

The Bad

Newspapers have lost a lot of confidence. I remember in the height of their power in the 90’s newspaper groups were incredible power houses of journalism comment and moneymaking prowess. Perhaps, as the ancient Greeks would have recognised anyway, due to the hubris shown at those times the cyclical and systemic changes to the media landscape have hit them particularly hard, but they have still internalised the pain and taken a slightly myopic view of the potential solutions.

At least till now. My own group has cracked it I think, with what is becoming known as David Montgomerys Transformation plan for ‘local’ press showing huge strides in its nascent weeks and months. Healthy profits and huge audience growths being the likely outcome of the first year.

And who would bet against Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon? He’s just paid hundreds of millions of dollars to buy The Washington Post. Say what? Yes, its true. Perhaps the best known of the internet entrepreneurs of the last decade or so spending huge amounts to own a traditional media brand – albeit an enormously powerful media brand.

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos starts his High Orde...

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By there’s the answer I think – it’s about harassing the power of these brands and trying to once again make them profitable. Whether that’s down to revenue growth, or a reshaping of the business models, or more likely, somewhere in between, I’m not sure…

The Ugly

All this pain has made for a short term-ism and a sort of machismo that I can’t help think is holding the ‘new’ press back.

Its seems understandable that senior management want to watch the pennies and obsess over revenues, declining as they are.

But plans need time to come to fruition and the various businesses space to breath and latitude to learn how to compete in today’s market place. An iron grip on whats going on is one thing, but it should be balanced with a view of the future.

The one thing Jeff Bezos has promised the management of The Washington Post is space, and the financial support to work all this out. Seems a sensible plan to me.

The other consequence of all that pain is a sort of thousand yard stare on everyone you meet. I think maybe they are so used to losing colleagues and friends to redundancy over the last few years that it has hardened people.

They are a tough bunch in newspapers, and they don’t take prisoners. 

And those that are still in it are very much at the top of their game too.

But maybe there’s a chance to relax and enjoy the job a little more  There’s not many jobs where you will have as much fun as you will working in the media. Its great! Hard yes, but it can be very rewarding.

The distance from press I gained by working in radio for the last couple of decades has directly resulted in my ability to spot these things. And I certainly don’t mean any disrespect. I only hope my particular perspective will rub off on the people I’ve the honour to lead for the foreseeable, and we can have some fun doing it!

There is no doubt, alongside the burgeoning economic recovery, there is a renewed vigour in the industry, and I for one am extremely excited to be part of it.

I’ll give the last word to Jeff Bezos actually, newspapers latest recruit. He says there are three secrets to the Amazon.com success and he will be bringing that same focus to The Washington Post.

And I think we could all take a leaf out that particular ‘e-book’ too:

Put the customer first They must be at the centre of everything we do

Invent Constantly innovate, get better, stay ahead

Be patient It’s a long game, take your time, and always build for the future

Pretty good advice.

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4 replies
  1. Paul Robinson
    Paul Robinson says:

    Ive always thought that the smart device revolution is something that the traditional press industry needs to be all over (and to be fair they probably are). Sure, there may be a decline in picking up a paper from the newsagent shelf, but I can think of many who wouldnt balk at a subscription for a daily e-delivery. Moving that forward leads me to think of how revenues can be gained. Most of us are almost snow blind to internet advertising (how often do you not skip the ad on youtube for example?), so clients and creatives need to work that bit ahead to gain the readers eye. Or maybe its as much to do with who you approach to advertise. I can still see that as a very viable opportunity for recruitment over, say, car sales. Media mix has never been so crucial. Imagine the commuter on the bus on their ipad, seeing a tied in visual from their web habits, to an outdoor, while the relevant ad pops in their ears! Of course, that takes client spend, but thats another blog topic altogether!

    • Tony Dowling
      Tony Dowling says:

      Thanks Paul, I’m really reassured that so many of these ‘new problems’ are actually the same old problems couched in modern terms.
      I wouldn’t disagree with your assessments either. Thanks as always for your contribution

    • Tony Dowling
      Tony Dowling says:

      Thanks Mark! If I’d have know you were coming, I’d have baked a cake 🙂
      Great to see you here, thanks for stopping by.
      This post was inspired in some way by your recent podcast with Tom Webster where you discussed at length the impacts Mr Bezos might have on the industry.
      I know you are a supporter of a healthy press, and your comments mean a lot
      Thanks again

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