The way we consume information has radically changed the media landscape. To keep pace with technology and digitalization and, as a result, remain profitable, the industry needs to constantly reinvent itself. It is no secret that the media industry is in bad shape. According to the American Society of News Editors (ASNE), in the US, 3/4 of print newspaper revenue has evaporated over the last decade and 1/3 of newsroom jobs have been lost. In this challenging climate, thinking dynamically can make the difference.
Speed, style, and personalized recommendations
The single most significant message coming from web traffic analyses is that faster load times lead to more traffic. In recent years a few newspapers have gotten the message. Upon buying the Washington Post, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos insisted on reducing load times by 40%. Since 2013 The New York Times has revamped its entire web architecture, everything from hardware to server configuration to its massive code base, to meet new speed targets. The Guardian has also dropped its page load time, from 12.1 to 3.2 seconds.
Beyond speed, site design and layout has a large effect on traffic and on purchase decisions. Another key finding is the crucial importance of personalized content recommendations systems. Automated, algorithmic recommendations are the cornerstone of the strategy of most large digital firms. Companies like Amazon and Netflix depend on content recommendation systems for a large portion of their revenue, and an even bigger chunk of their profits.
The Bezos effect
The Post’s revival under Jeff Bezos is not just the story of one newspaper, it might tell us about prospects for the newspaper business as a whole. Since Bezos’ acquisition for $250 million in 2013, the Post has focused its efforts on building up the paper’s digital audience. In February 2016, according to ComScore, the Post received 890.1 million page views, beating not just the New York Times (721.3 million) but traffic monster BuzzFeed (884 million). Online readership which has constantly grown, has been accompanied by a continuing drop in paid print circulation. If the Post’s recipe succeeds, it will be due to three ingredients: outstanding journalism, especially coverage of national and international issues; a large and growing digital audience; and a strategy of converting that audience into solid revenue, through digital subscriptions and advertising. Shailesh Prakash, the Post’s chief information officer, says the idea is to pull visitors down through a “customer-engagement funnel.” At the top of the funnel is what might be called drive-by traffic – casual visitors who saw a link on Facebook or Twitter, and decided to click. A visitor who sticks around for a few minutes and reads the story will see related articles and perhaps sample a few of those, thus pulling her into the funnel. Some of these begin to visit the Post more regularly. And at the very bottom of the funnel are visitors who have become loyal enough Post readers that they decide to pay for a subscription to the digital bundle that Bezos has identified as key to the paper’s future. The goal is to widen the top of the funnel as much as possible by maximizing total digital traffic and to convert a small but significant percentage of that traffic into loyal, subscription- buying customers.
The future of the newspaper business is not only about financial results, but also the role of journalism in a democracy. In the context of the new American president, quality journalism has become a priority for many Americans, and maybe that’s the light at the end of the tunnel for the entire industry worldwide.