The self-inflicted issue
Newspaper publishers have created many problems themselves by overlooking market demand, says media analyst Jim Chisholm. Elizabeth Hogan reports.
Jim Chisholm ended up as a journalist by default. He failed his high school English exams. His parents were told he couldn’t communicate properly and he couldn’t get into architecture, his first choice in tertiary education.
In 1976, the only job Mr Chisholm could get was at The Guardian.
Since then he has been a media consultant and analyst. He has advised publishers on digital strategy development, examined the impact of the Internet on print circulation, conducted price-optimisation modelling across print and digital channels and created alternative revenue models.
“I do a lot of work writing about strategy and my favourite expression to people is ‘I tell editors where to go.’ Isn’t that funny for a guy who was told he couldn’t communicate and couldn’t write in English when he was 16?” he said.
Mr Chisholm said that falling newspaper circulation follows basic market knowledge: when new products and alternatives are introduced, the market share is lost. Managers and publishers of newspapers need to stop thinking that this behaviour is unique to their industry.
However, one self-inflicted issue, he said, is that newspapers have neglected to market their own brand.
“You can walk around the streets in most of the cities of the world and don’t know a newspaper exists. The reality is we have ceased to exist in our own heads more than we have in our consumer heads and that’s 50 per cent of the reason that our business is in the mess it is.”
Answering the problem of circulation lies in understanding the intense connection that stakeholders have with newspapers.
“The solution to our problem lies in a better understanding of regular consumption and consumption for enjoyment,” he said.
Over one billion people read a newspaper in print and 800,000 read the newspaper in either print or online. However, only two million people read newspapers solely online.
“The consumption of our media only in a digital form is really quite small … Digital audiences generate interest rather than intensity,” Mr Chisholm said.
Mr Chisholm’s analysis of newspaper consumption in print and digital found that the total number of pages read per month was 1521 in print compared to only 27 online.
“If you were an advertiser, print is delivering you 1521 chances to see,” he said.
Investigating audience intensity, examining why readers visit certain pages and analysing the total number of website visits per month will save the industry, said Mr Chisholm.
There is also a change in the ways in which advertising revenues are generated that no longer follow the usual patterns.
“The vast majority of money on the internet is made not from advertising, but from marketing,” said Mr Chisholm.
Public relations spending, which Mr Chisholm considers to be commercial propaganda is four times higher than the total amount of money spent on professional news journalism.
He called for this inequality to be addressed when considering the future.
Mr Chisholm said he believes the charm of the newspaper is another thing that is often overlooked.
To end his talk, Mr Chisholm sat on the steps, opened a book and said, “You know what is interesting about a book? You start at the beginning and read it ‘till the end.”
So is that what is so serendipitous about the newspaper: that you can start at any section of the paper and navigate it yourself?
Perhaps the challenge, then, is to address why the serendipity of the newspaper is not translating to online.
Mr Chisholm says the answer is to ask the consumers.