Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Don't Redesign the Print Edition to Ensure Failure

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Don't Redesign the Print Edition to Ensure Failure

Article excerpt

Is the newspaper print edition dying sooner that expected?

After all, just in the last week The Christian Science Monitor announced that it's shutting down its weekday print editions next spring in favor of a Web-centric news service on weekdays and a single weekend print edition. In Canada, the National Post said it will cut the paper's availability in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, only making it available on Saturdays and only in stores (no more home delivery); Post readers will be able to get the full digital edition of the paper instead.

While those headlines provided a bit of shock to the already-reeling newspaper industry, I do not think it signals a coming wave of publishers cutting their paper editions, especially for metro and community papers. (The Monitor and Post are national papers, facing somewhat different challenges than local newspapers.) The daily print edition is going to be around for quite a while longer (though I expect that we'll see some publishers cut back a day or two from seven-day-a-week publication).

BUT ... because newspaper print editions are trending toward thinned-down and content-lean versions of their former selves, they need to be designed to hold on to their core audience AND guide the print loyalists toward increasing online and mobile news consumption to make up for the paper editions' new-found shortcomings.

After reviewing some of the newspaper print-edition redesigns that have made headlines recently, I have to conclude that many publishers are getting it wrong.

The new reality: Deal with it

So here's my premise:

1. Young people are not picking up the printed-newspaper habit in any significant numbers, and no matter what newspaper designers do to revamp or reinvent the print edition, it won't make much difference. Their preference for digital media consumption is a given, and will only expand further.2. Older readers who still prefer reading news in print will be the ones who keep newspaper paper editions going for years longer.3. But those core older readers are noticing the reporters heading out the door and the thinning of the product that they're continuing to pay for. They're noticing the decline in quality and the reduction in what gets covered.4. Many older readers are recoiling at some of the more aggressive print-edition redesigns (such as those by the Tribune Co., for example), which seem geared toward attracting more younger readers rather than retaining older ones. Many of them will react to too-bold redesigns with skepticism, perceiving them as attempts to mask the reality of less content and lower quality of the core journalistic product.5. The result of all this -- with the key ingredient being the decline in quality of the print product as a result of significant staff reductions -- will be to force older newspaper readers to do something they've resisted so far: move to online and mobile more as their sources of news, forsaking print editions because they no longer see enough value to continue buying them.

News media consultant Ken Doctor recently summed up the situation for newspapers this way on his blog: "One big reason the [circulation] numbers are declining is the product itself. In the last year, we've seen unprecedented cuts in the product -- and the customers are noticing. It looks like the amount of newsprint is down about 10-15%; some in stories, some in ads. Trusted bylines have disappeared overnight. Readers notice, and talk to their friends, and they're saying: it's not the newspaper it used to be. When the subscription notices come, they're a little less likely to be acted upon. "

If newspaper publishers don't figure out how to make a "leaner, meaner" and thinner printed edition that's better or at least as good as what readers used to get, then we really will see more newspaper companies forced to finally jettison print -- because the paper loyalists will get fed up and stop spending their money on newspapers, as Doctor suggests. …

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