Over 500 million people have a Twitter account, more than one billion people use Facebook and owning a smartphone is becoming a necessity. How has moving our lives ‘online’ changed the way in which we consume information, and what impact will this have on newspapers?
A title at the forefront of this change is the Financial Times which recently announced that it would be shaping the publication to become a ‘digital platform first’ and a ‘newspaper second’. This implies a necessary restructuring of the paper, shifting the workforce weight to support different processes, which to the frustration of many will mean jobs cuts in the form of a ‘voluntary redundancy programme’. Editor Lionel Barber believes this will reduce company costs ‘by £1.6m in the current year’, thus keeping the paper up-to-date with the ever-changing world of digital economics.
The aim of the Financial Times is to compete with the likes of Google, LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook, all platforms that make the sharing and receiving of information a faster and more interactive experience. How then will the paper attempt to do this while its paywall raises a barrier against the ‘sharing’ that other outlets are so keen to exploit?
It seems to be on the right track, being the first paper to make more money from subscriptions than adverts, also seeing its digital income surpass that of print. Indeed, Andrew Miller, CEO of the Guardian Media Group, even suggests that paywalls are only presently suitable for papers for which ‘growth in readership may not be so important’ but that already have a strong ‘print subscriber base’. The Financial Times has that base in the form of corporate subscribers, paving the way for digital success.
Trinity Mirror has also felt the effects of pushing for an efficient digital profile, recently announcing that it will be cutting 40 editorial jobs in a bid to focus on ‘creating more logical digital output’. As with every new plan, changes have to be made in order to pave the way to a better future; but with this comes apprehension. Are all the negative aspects of this digital revolution worth the initial pain?
The Guardian has a particularly prominent online presence, with Twitter handles galore, Facebook pages and viral adverts which feature appearances from the likes of Hugh Grant. Despite this push, they reported losses of £44.2m last year which are partly due to investment in the demanding world of ‘digital publishing’ – namely apps for iPads, smartphones and Facebook – even though their digital revenues actually saw a 16.3% growth. Guardian News & Media has defended its investment by stating that it maintains a reach of ‘5.8 million people a week’ through both print and digital – 300,000 more than The Times.
So why hasn’t The Times had to take such drastic measures? The paper hasn’t opted for the ‘digital first’ approach but interestingly does have a paywall, appealing to the loyalty of its readers and cushioning the financial pinch by securing its own online ‘club’ Times+. As well as the standard paper and website content, members receive invitations to exclusive events and cinema screenings, as well as discounts on ‘theatre tickets, hotel stays and luxury escapes’. Readers are made to feel appreciated with the paper outwardly rewarding them for their custom, while simultaneously expanding its own digital presence in a rather different way to the rest of the papers.
Are these decisions being based on traditional perceptions of target audiences which suggest that young people are constantly on the internet while older people don’t even own computers? If so, publishers need to come to the realisation that as easy as it is for generations of the same family to pick up and read a paper, so it is to double click on an icon. We are now able to master iPads by the age of three or maintain a blog at the age of 97. It’s a digital age; let’s embrace it.