The Rise of Digital Newspapers

The Rise of Digital Newspapers

Digital Transformation of Publishers

Right now, in 2022, more  than 85% of Americans are consuming news on their digital  devices. News-papers are fast  becoming paper-less: the  pandemic and its aftermath has only accelerated the need for this digital transformation. For news  publishers, it’s no longer a question anymore, of whether to adopt a digital  strategy or not. The focus,  instead, is on devising the  right digital business model, that will help gain and retain readers, and executing it really well. 

This is not a new story, the  transition to digital commenced  way back in the 90s with the  likes of Wall Street Journal  monetizing online access to  news from 1996. Mid 2000s  saw the advent of publications  like BuzzFeed and Huffington Post,  setting the tone for digital-first  publications, driven by discoverability on search engines and  virality on social media  platforms. Back to today - news is  becoming more and more digital  with an eye on reader preferences  and hence audience engagement. 

And, as we know, these consumers have an increasingly reduced  attention span.This ties back to the  need for publishers to develop  the right digital business model.  Aligning the wider business  around this defined digital  business model / strategy. This will  need to cover people, process and  technology and be underpinned by  a clear commercial strategy. At the  centre of this strategy will need a  clear and defined data strategy  allowing the publisher to build  meaningful and long lived  relationships with their customers.

The Digital Business Model – People,  Process and Technology

As mentioned, The fundamental  prerequisite for a well-defined  digital strategy is to have a  company-wide aligned vision on  the need for a digital-focused  approach to the news business.  

Everyone across the organisation  needs to understand the stated  business goals and what success  looks like when working to deliver  against these goals. A useful way to mobilise teams is adopting a Lean  Enterprise approach and maybe  leverage tools like Lean Value  to the digital roadmap. The  leadership should clearly  articulate the goals driven by  the new digital business models,  enabled by “digital-oriented”  behaviour across teams, roles and Tree planning. Be it the editorial or technology teams, a unified purpose is essential to make the transition to digital, sustainable.

The digital business models  and the linked monetization  would logically follow if all  the organizational stakeholders  believe in the need for the  transformation. It’s imperative for  the executive leadership to drive  this change with clear positive  reinforcements for digital  ideation and for adherence levels in the organization. 

Thus defining a set of  values and cultural changes  towards innovation across the  organisation.When embedding  the new culture of digital transformation, it is also important to identify and address the sense of  insecurity that some employees  might have because of the impending changes.

Openness in  terms of recognizing ideas on  merit, irrespective of which role  or level it stems from, is also essential to tide over the change  required for this scale of transformation.  It’s also very important to have open,  innovative, courageous and flexible  leaders at the helm, who have the  capability and the ambition to  Unlearn any historic inherent  behaviours that would limit and  slow the speed of change.

This interview with Mr. Mark  Thompson, ex-CEO of the New York  Times brings to light insights on  digital transformation for publishers.  It also provides interesting debate from a people and culture perspective. 

People and processes are at the  core of any strategic initiative.  Digital Transformation is not  unique to Publishing of course,  many industries are now having  to adopt their business models to  reflect the rapidly changing  behaviours of their customers.  This really means that great digital people are in serious demand so honing your employer brand and  culture to attract these individuals  is imperative to both attract  and retain talent. This new mindset to become digital first,  have a progressive and diverse  culture, and embedding new lean  ways of working will need investment. Investment that will  pay back in time with higher  quality products being released  and through the creation of a  culture which is conducive to long lived business success and  relevancy.  

So, create an eclectic mix of  people with diverse backgrounds  and skills. Hire people that are  open and flexible enough to not  just be great at what they do but  will drive change through  evangelising the target vision  and culture across the wider  business. 

Many, many leaders have become leaders because they’re great at one thing. Generally, in this digital moment, you need people who can be good at one thing and can then learn something else. We brought people in from outside the Times, sometimes promoted people from inside who were more open minded.
Mark Thompson, Former CEO, New York Times

Speaking of “outside-in” approaches, one of the key processes to follow is to keep a  close watch on reader content  consumption. It is more critical  today than ever before to be very  accurate in audience segmentation  and profiling to have a pulse of  what kind of articles appeal to the readers. Building a community that allows peer to peer connectivity will not just help build loyalty but allow for effective social listening that will ensure your brand can stay on top of what readers are looking for and what they are sharing. The above focus on reader preferences should sit at the centre of a data driven platform that ensures content and user experiences are increasingly personalised, based on known behaviour, thus increasing trust and loyalty.

Data outputs should, of course, should be structured around defined business goals with clear metrics associated with each, be it acquisition, conversion or a better customer satisfaction metric. This laser focus on reader experience underpins a highly data driven approach to understanding customer preferences at a very detailed level of granularity.

It is important to have continuous personally curated communications with the readers to ensure you retain engagement. Achieving true, and long lasting, audience engagement would involve a certain degree of trial and error too. Any publication would have its core proposition to offer to its target audience. The proposition on offer should match the preferences of the reader segments. Fine-tuning this match will require experimentation. The key is to remain frugal and carry out lean experiments to optimize on resources invested in the process of finding the fitment. At the end of the day, it’s very important to have a “reception oriented” approach to gauging audience-engagement and thereby delivering personalized, high- value reading experiences.