Media analyst Ken Doctor on paywalls 2.0 and other key news industry trends on the rise

byVsevolod Pulya
Nov 14, 2013 in Specialized Topics

Change comes to the media industry so quickly that it's hard to predict trends for 2014. And by 2064, "we won't recognize ourselves," says media analyst Ken Doctor.

Doctor is author of the book “Newsonomics: Twelve New Trends That Will Shape the News You Get.” He covers the ever-changing news industry on his website and on Nieman Journalism Lab.

He’s also working for the research firm Outsell as well as acting as a regular consultant and speaker at media conferences. Before that, he worked for the U.S. media company Knight Ridder (now part of The McClatchy Company) for 21 years in different positions, including managing editor of the St. Paul Pioneer Press and vice president of Knight Ridder Digital.

After having a look at Ken’s latest keynote on what we should expect from the media in 2014, I decided to reach out to have him explain changes in the media industry that everybody in the news business has already started seeing — on their screens and in their income reports.

At a recent World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers event, you described the key trends news publishers can expect to see going into 2014. If we go on a larger scale and try to dream about what news industry could look like in 2064, can you imagine any fundamental differences from what we see now?

Looking back – those of us still here – we won’t recognize ourselves. The biotech revolution, merging human and technology – will change not just the news and information we get, but the basic nature of being human, its potential and its peril. Right now, our info devices are all external and our learning internal; we’ll see a merger of the two in ways beyond our current imagination.

Texts on the Internet tend to become shorter, while everyone in the media business has started doing videos. Does it mean that people’s habits shifted to less reading and more watching? Are “long reads” necessary for news websites?

Yes and no. We shouldn’t take the early Internet revolution as the end-all. Desktops – with their minutes spent now stagnant – have proven to be interim devices. They didn’t offer comfort for long-form reading. Now, though, as tablets proliferate – 35 percent penetration in the U.S, 40 percent in the Nordic countries – long-form is having a revival. We’re learning that device comfort, in part, determines how and what we read.

How can we not lose reporting techniques while being extremely obsessed with new technology in journalism?

The basics – accuracy, double-checking, effective storytelling – don’t change, though technology can often be confused as an end, not just a means to do things differently and better. Good journalists understand the distinction and need to pass it on to the next generation.

Is journalism a business of relationships or a business of selling content?

Increasingly, it is about relationships. Technology – digital technology – makes those relationships possible. We’re moving from users (an odious term) back to readers and subscribers (implying a paying relationship) and now, newly, to members. Membership offers lots closer contact, better serving both reading and commercial needs.

We’ve seen a fall of newspapers to Craigslist on the field of classifieds. What other traditional areas of operation can be lost by the newspapers if they don’t act fast?

The biggest concern is local retail ads. Much of the classified business is gone, and national advertising is moving rapidly to digital. The ability to satisfy local merchants, especially in mobile marketing, is key.

Which one of the new services and other monetization opportunities proved to be the most successful among the U.S. media during the past few years?

Hands down, paywalls have generated the most new revenue, with reader revenue up 5 percent last year and this year. Most promising: “digital services” in which news companies help local merchants with products from SEO and SEM to couponing and site building.

Is Jeff Bezos buying the Washington Post a sign of the fact that the media industry can be saved by the new generation of high-tech entrepreneurs? What else does it mean?

“Save” is too strong a word. The Bezos and [Warren] Buffett entry into the business is a potentially good sign, a signal of longer-term patience and investment in the business. In Boston, Tampa and Orange County, we’re also seeing outsiders buy in. In part, the Old Guard has run out of ideas and patience; in part, these new owners bring money, fresh outside-the-business [perspective] and “runway,” as Bezos has put it.

You’ve recently stated that we’ll soon see a Paywall 2.0 – a spate of new products, individually priced and targeted at niche audiences. Can you name an active example of such a model or is it still being developed?

Sure, the Chicago Tribune’s Printer’s Row is a paid-for book section, digital site and events offer that is reviving the old idea of a weekly books section, but separately paid from a Chicago Tribune All-Access subscription.

Can you describe the integrated marketing solutions you’ve touched upon at the recent WAN-IFRA event?

Integrated marketing is the vast area beyond selling space, online or in print. It includes content marketing, native advertising, events as a business, and digital services offered to local merchants. It begins to act on how publishers can use a toolbox of commerce-supporting services, well beyond “Buy this space, and good luck.”

What’s your opinion on the development of branded content? Can it damage the reputation of a media organization?

Certainly, sponsored content or poorly disclosed content marketing/native advertising can damage credibility. Giving advertisers a new voice – and helping them create and sustain that voice – is fine, but it’s got to be separated from the work of the newsroom. To do otherwise is to violate the trust of readers, and that’s damaging to the business, as well as violating long-standing and well-thought-out ethical guidelines.

Do you personally continue to read paper newspapers and paper books?

I read my local daily, the Santa Cruz Sentinel, in print [for] a nice quick rundown on local [news]. The Sunday New York Times in print lasts all week, and the Times, WSJ and all other news media I read digitally during the week.

This interview originally appeared on The Denver Post's website, and it is published on IJNet with permission.

Vsevolod Pulya, managing editor for Russia Beyond the Headlines, visited The Post as part of the Russia-U.S. Young Media Professionals Exchange Program. The exchange program is run by the International Center for Journalists, IJNet's parent organization, and the Union of Journalists of Moscow.

Image CC-licensed on Flickr via s2photo.