Strength comes from size is always the way I looked at the strategy observed by many print media groups. By gobbling up competition and filling the portfolio with titles which safeguarded an advertising market without really wanting them because there was any real desire to promote journalism, seems to have been a tactic adopted pretty widely.
But a few things have suggested that this notion of survival of the fittest may actually be changing.
Firstly a talk by Susan Mernit of Oakland Local at SxSW suggested that, in the US at least, digital startups were beginning to get under the skin – and noses – of their print counterparts. She told a story of trying to build partnerships with other local media and met resistance from only one source. Yep, you guessed it, she was talking about the print media whose idea of a partnership was all take and very little give.
Then a piece by Steve Dyson in InPublishing suggested that print hyperlocal was beginning to win battles which the regional groups were struggling to even land a punch in. His comments in a follow up article on HoldTheFrontPage supported some of the views he’d expressed to me in an interview for a forthcoming book.
His suggestion about ‘internet-gazing’ was somewhat dismissive of the potential for journalism to succeed as a purely online enterprise, but his view of niche is a very true one and supports my personal belief that print could gain a lot from hyperlocal instead of trying to be hyper-regional.
Not only does hyperlocal provide real community connection and engagement but it offers something which allows publishers to exploit cracks and advance new directions. As Susan Mernit put it in her talk, it’s about agility.
She talked about how Oakland Local had been able to delve into non-traditional revenue streams purely because they had the flexibility to move quickly and efficiently when needed.
So while strength in numbers might have served very well when you could dominate a pre-digital marketplace, we appear to have reached something of a tipping point with regards to the ability of the mainstream media to evolve, re-shape and take advantage of opportunities. It’s like trying to turn an oil tanker 360 while your rival is doing the same in a speedboat.
But my old editor’s piece in InPublishing also throws up some interesting debates (ones which I’ll tackle in a future post on here in more depth) about whether a single company can really strike an effective balance between publishing in print and publishing digitally.
One of the examples of hyperlocal print success, filtonvoice has a website that is not central to the success of his project according to the editor Richard Coulter. Which poses the question of whether newspapers and print media should get back to what it’s good at and leave those digital enterprises to try and find online solutions to the revenue question?
Surely this option would allow both sides of the market to develop agility and flexibility and hone their skills, funding and expertise on something they are truly passionate about and good at? It would definitely give audiences products which are more than just an after-thought or a market blocker.
Susan Mernit’s slides from SxSW can be viewed here.