Sunday, January 25, 2009

Questionable Future For Printed News

Printed newspapers and magazines across the globe are in trouble. Big trouble. In-home subscriptions are rapidly declining and advertisers are avoiding them like the plague.

The NYTimes reports that the French government is providing a financial bailout for their country's newspaper industry. This frustrates me because the primary reason for the newspapers' woes are cited as a "decrease in advertiser revenue." So why does the French government think the solution is to purchase print ad space? Isn't that just a band-aid for a much bigger problem?

I recently attended the Gotham Media Ventures forum "The Future of News and Information." The panel included prominent leaders in digital publishing, including Martin Nisenholtz, SVP Digital Operations at the NYTimes. He described the frightening decline in his publication's new print subscriptions, but noted that the NYTimes still proudly claims tens of millions of existing print subscribers. Interestingly, Nisenholtz added that their data shows print subscribers rarely cancel their home subscription unless "they die or move out of NYTimes' distribution area."

That's pretty remarkable. Very few companies or products can claim that sort of brand loyalty. But that still paints a picture of a very bleak future for the NYTimes.

So how do newspapers and magazines restructure their business models? How do they respond to declining print subscriptions? What now, if brands don't want to advertise in print?

One solution was offered by another Gotham panelist; Financial Times' managing editor, Chrystia Freeland. She sees the future of print publications as a subscriber paid model for online news consumption. I should note that not one of the panel members or audience agreed with Freeland's solution, and eagerly challenged the notion, citing the failed subscriber-paid models of the NYTimes and WSJ.

Nisenholtz offered e-paper as another possible solution. He noted that the NYTimes has made recent investments in e-paper, but declined to share any specific details.

I'm concerned if a new medium like e-paper addresses the problem at hand. Today, readers are accustomed to using their computers and mobile devices as their medium for consuming content. These devices are readily available, making the consumption of content both easy and free to access. How would the introduction of yet another electronic device solve this problem?

Bottom line: advertisers no longer see value in print advertising, and readers are no longer interested in newspapers and magazines. As consumers of digital content, what is our obligation to publishers to continue providing their incredibly valuable service?

Disclaimers: For purposes of nostalgia, I currently subscribe to the NYTimes, Wired, Forbes, GQ, Time Out NY and Newsweek. My employer is a global digital advertising agency.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

A Radio Station That's Really Trying

I rarely use this space to write about non-digital matters. But every once in a while I stumble upon a profound offline experience. In this case, analog (gasp!).

Let me make one thing clear: I don't listen to radio much any more. Why? Non-stop commercials, bubble-gum-crap, constant-loop-soundtracks are all that can be found on New York radio stations. And classic rock stations keep the same old songs on rotation all day. Even the so-called "rock stations" are often irrelevant. For these reasons, I haven't gone out of my way to stream any New York FM stations or tune into much more than NPR during my once-a-week drive in my car.

Then I found 101.9 RXP. Recently re-branded into "The New York Rock Experience," it's hard to imagine that this station formerly broadcast only smooth jazz. RXP plays very few commercials, which is either because they don't have advertisers yet, or they're incredibly considerate to their listeners. I'd like to think it's the latter. They found non-chatty DJ's (get out!), with veterans such as Matt Pinfield, whose familiar, raspy voice is still welcome.

After listening for hours today on this snowed-in, freezing cold Sunday, RXP managed to not repeat one song, delivering unique music from upcoming bands, current alt rock chart-toppers, and established classics. These aren't the hit songs that get regular radio play - they're B-sides from the likes of: Elvis Costello, AC/DC, Led Zep, Tom Petty, The Police, Kaiser Chiefs, Death Cab, Interpol, Killers and Kings Of Leon.

It's nice to see a radio station that's really trying.