Newspaper Industry: Radical Industry Changes Mean Radical Changes in Labour Relations

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve been reading the various news around the newspaper industry: fundamental reorganizations, large-scale layoffs, difficult collective agreement negotiations.  But not all is doom and gloom. According to an MS&L survey, discussed in Advertising Age, “84% of digital influencers go online to find out more about something only after first reading about it in magazines and newspapers or hearing about it on TV or the radio. ”

Most of my readers know I’m a newspaper junkie. Ten years ago, I was subscribing to 3 daily papers.  Today, none.  I still buy the Saturday print editions (for my US readers, Saturday editions in Canada are the equivalent of Sunday editions in the US) of two newspapers though. But, guess what? I’m not consuming less news than 10 years ago. In fact, I think I consume more news today but its format has changed. We have access to news 24/7 on a variety of offline and online medium.  I watch news on TV in the morning before leaving for work, I listen to news on radio while surfing media web sites on my mobile device during my public transit commute, I get news pushed to me by my Twitter and Facebook friends, I read the free transit daily newspaper during my lunch hour, I do the radio/mobile Web thing in the commute back and I often catch the late night news (at 10pm here).  Did I tell you I love news and newspapers?🙂

The challenge with newspapers is not overall readership.  It’s about user fragmentation and how to monetize those fragmented eyeballs.

The print version used to represent 100% of readers and 100% of revenues. Now, that version represents a smaller percentage of readers but still a large chunk of the revenues. According to a report published by ContentNext, the New York Times “would have to increase page views sixfold on its Web site–roughly on par with msnbc.com and Yahoo News–in order to equal revenues on the print side.” (source: Mediapost). Monetization is clearly an issue. BTW, any company that comes up with a better model to monetize online news will be very rich. What this means is that newspapers now need to extend their content to multiple media (print, online, mobile, etc.) in order to, at best, maintain their revenue levels.  Expansion in other media might mean future revenue growth but right now it’s mostly about short term sustainability.

on strike

Source: swanksalot on flickr

Which brings me back to the very difficult collective agreement negotiations we’ve been hearing a lot about in the last 12-18 months in the newspaper industry. Warning! I’m sure that what follows is a gross oversimplification of the situation but that’s the way I see it. As an outsider, I feel the main sticky point in negotiations is often around the ability for newspaper organizations to re-use content in multiple media. Unions are usually very much opposed to it.

My question to union organizers is: what if there’s no turning back?  What if newspaper organizations are now facing radical changes which requires them to extend the journalists content to multiple media without having the ability to increase resources?

My question to newspaper management is: why isn’t there more open discussion around that fact? Why is the union perception still that this is about creating “more” revenues? And why don’t you offer financial upside to journalists in case online monetization picks up in the future?

Radical industry changes require a new type of labour relations but that’s not what I see today.

4 thoughts on “Newspaper Industry: Radical Industry Changes Mean Radical Changes in Labour Relations

  1. Thompson Reuters is a sign of the times. Focus on electric media, and limit your exposure to print. Most print organizations and print unions are still stuck in the 80’s. But you have to remember that many of these print organizations and unions have been around for almost 100 years, so moving towards a new paradigm is difficult, due to the old guard syndrome.

    More and more magazines are also dumping print and focusing on electric print, including the new Adobe browser technology for flipping digital pages from a PDF. One of my clients has moved in this direction, and I noticed YPG has as well. Some older Internet users may benefit from the page flipping metaphor, but I suspect they will move to towards a more flexible HTML model with proper navigation and hypertext (as well as integration into 100’s of existing technologies).

    Organizations are also trying to monetize social media, but they make the mistake of sending all their traffic to FaceBook or other social media sites, when they should be building a social community within their own suite of portals, through proprietary tools and services, and then collecting the social analytics and maximizing the monetization models.

  2. Thompson Reuters is a sign of the times. Focus on electric media, and limit your exposure to print. Most print organizations and print unions are still stuck in the 80’s. But you have to remember that many of these print organizations and unions have been around for almost 100 years, so moving towards a new paradigm is difficult, due to the old guard syndrome.

    More and more magazines are also dumping print and focusing on electric print, including the new Adobe browser technology for flipping digital pages from a PDF. One of my clients has moved in this direction, and I noticed YPG has as well. Some older Internet users may benefit from the page flipping metaphor, but I suspect they will move to towards a more flexible HTML model with proper navigation and hypertext (as well as integration into 100’s of existing technologies).

    Organizations are also trying to monetize social media, but they make the mistake of sending all their traffic to FaceBook or other social media sites, when they should be building a social community within their own suite of portals, through proprietary tools and services, and then collecting the social analytics and maximizing the monetization models.

  3. Another developing technology that’s going to push more readers away from print media are Readers. Although mobile digital readers aren’t as available in Canada as in the US, I can see myself and many of my peers switching to digital reading when they are.

    I think dead tree technology is on its way out.

  4. Another developing technology that’s going to push more readers away from print media are Readers. Although mobile digital readers aren’t as available in Canada as in the US, I can see myself and many of my peers switching to digital reading when they are.

    I think dead tree technology is on its way out.

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