Storm warnings

Poynter Online, a digital arm of the journalism-driven Poynter Institute, posted a couple of pieces this week that call into question the impact of digital on demand for and consumption of print.

One article covered a survey by the University of Missouri that found mobile device owners were just as likely to subscribe to "at least one newspaper or newsmagazine" as those who don't own a mobile device. The second followed up on a decision by the New Orleans Times-Picayune to discontinue its print edition on certain days of the week.

There are at least a couple of holes in the University of Missouri study. The data reported for the subscription question represents all mobile devices, about half of which are still not smartphones. Because it asks if you continue to subscribe to "at least one" periodical, the survey doesn't really get at the marginal likelihood that a tablet or smartphone owner will drop at least some subscriptions.

Still, the central idea, that we live in an "either-and" world, is a good one. The core question to ask, then, is how we make that blended model work.

Much of what has been done to date relies on ad-driven strategies. As noted yesterday, paywalls have been and may remain a challenge to create and maintain.

So the news in a Reuters report, "In scare for newspapers, digital ad growth stalls", comes at a bad time for newspapers and related publications seeking a way forward. Written by Jennifer Saba, the article notes that digital advertising revenue in the first quarter of 2012 was just one percent higher than it was in the first quarter of 2011. She also reports that this is "the fifth consecutive quarter" in which the rate of growth has declined.

One of the challenges newspapers face is abundance, not just of news and information, but of online advertising inventory. Excess inventory has depressed price, limiting the growth in ad spending.

With print revenues weakening and digital growth limited or stalled, the short-term tactic for many newspapers remains cost management. It may be the case that much of this sector has come too late to the innovation party. I hope not, but if that's the case, other media can at least heed the warning.

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.