Sunday, 13 December 2009

World Press Congress: Top newspaper executives feel print media must change strategies

By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Dec 2: Top newspaper executives feel that the print media must adapt and change its strategies to keep circulation and revenues going up.
A survey conducted by the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers covering 653 respondents, mostly senior newspaper executives, revealed the troubling dilemma that continues to haunt newspaper publishers.
"On one hand, overwhelmingly, the majority of publishers acknowledge that their organisations must adapt and change their strategies, yet many admit they are facing big challenges in implementing that change," the survey pointed out.
The report of the survey was released at the ongoing world press summit here on Wednesday during a panel discussion on "shaping the future of the newspaper". "What is critical to change is developing editorial and sales force know-how for today's multimedia environment", the respondents said.
Martha Stone, director of the Shaping the Newspaper Future project for WAN-IFRA, said "we are all afraid of change, but change is inevitable and this industry is facing changes like never before. We have to focus not only on today's problems and challenges, but those in the coming years to secure that our business remains a vital part of society."
The Shaping the Future of the Newspaper (SFN) and Where NEWS? projects have produced more than 20 special reports over the past few years, all focused on helping publishers to adapt and formulate their strategies to deal with emerging technologies and consumer expectations.
Stone, Francois Nel, director of the Journalism Leaders Programme at the University of Central Lancanshire (UK), Dietmar Schantin, executive director of Publishing, Editorial and General Management Business Unit for WAN-IFRA, and moderator Sridala Swami, a freelance journalist, presented the numerous projects and their findings, but the focus of the session centred on a new SFN project, the "Future and Change Study."
Stone said one of the most significant findings is that, despite the fact that many publishers have reduced staff, "they fully plan to expand their product portfolio, to implement a strategy of growth to meet their needs.
And what is encouraging here is that staff reductions were not at the heart of this, rather investment and streamlining efficiencies. They will innovate."
Some of the new opportunities lie in mobile, especially smartphone technologies like the iPhone and Android, development of social media, the growing trend of events and conferences, and web TV. But also in print with targeted special editions, magazines, distribution services and production.
Of course the recent economic crisis has played a major role in the responses, and in the subsequent strategic thinking emerging. More than three-quarters of respondents experiences significant revenue declines over
the past year, with print advertising revenues hardest hit. About 80 per cent said on-line revenues were marginally up.
More revealing, however, is the finding that a majority of respondents say they will need 21 to 30 per cent of non-traditional revenues over the next five years to remain viable. Although much of this comes from hard-hit
regions like the US and northern Europe, this trend extends to most other regions around the world.
"Internet is good for the newspaper business," said John Paton, chairman and chief executive officer, impreMedia LLC, USA. Multimedia development is the key to extending reach.
"Don't get me wrong here, I believe newspaper companies have a very bright future but as news companies where print is only one of many products and where each builds audience for the others," he said; "Remember when we thought our websites would drive readers to the newspaper? Now it is the other way around, only bigger with more options."
By embracing digital platforms, impreMedia transformed a newspaper  company struggling through an economic downturn into a multi-platform company with a growing audience, diversified revenue streams and
increasing profits, said Mr Paton.
But he added: "This is not a story of creating a better video player, news widget or killer app - our offerings are better than some and weaker than others. It is a story of how a team of dedicated and talented individuals
came together to map out a company's future under trying circumstances because they care deeply about journalism. "

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