Biz Blog: Rick Edmonds analyzes the latest media business developments.

Pierre Moscovici

Digital disruption is now in full bloom at European, Australian newspapers

Traveling periodically to Europe and Latin America in the 2000s to speak at news business events, I got a consistent impression: international newspapers were better off than ours, but executives could see U.S.-style decline on the horizon within a few years.

Statistics released yesterday by the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) suggest that digital disruption is now in full bloom in Europe and Australia. Latin American newspapers are still showing moderate circulation and advertising growth. The picture is mixed in Asia and Africa.

The summary picture now matches the United States fairly exactly:  some growth in combined digital and print audience, digital ad revenues not keeping pace and both print circulation and print advertising declining sharply.

And Larry Kilman, secretary general of the association, sees a familiar implication.  “Unless we crack the revenue issue,” he wrote in a release summarizing the findings,  “and provide sufficient funds so that newspapers can fulfill their societal role, democracy will inevitably be weakened.”

Former French Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici reads a newspaper during the EU Finance Ministers meeting, at the European Council building in Brussels in 2013.
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Monday, Apr. 21, 2014

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Expansionary Halifax Media looks beyond its Southeast base for next buy

The Worcester (Mass.) Telegram & Gazette, long up for sale, reported Thursday that an executive team from Halifax Media Group had been in the building for several days of talks with management — a signal that the company is a likely buyer.

Halifax who? The Florida-based company, barely four years old, now has 35 dailies. With a billionaire backer, Warren Stephens of Arkansas, Halifax is pushing to the front of the line as mid-sized and smaller papers come up for sale. It bought the 16-paper New York Times Regional group for $143 million in December 2011 and 19 Florida and North Carolina dailies and weeklies from Freedom Communications six months later.

Halifax is little-known by design. Except for the occasional letter to readers, CEO Michael Redding typically does not do interviews (and I got no response to an email request that he discuss the company’s growth). But Halifax is exemplary of an acquisition boom in recent years. Read more

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Monday, Apr. 14, 2014

Anchorage Daily News homepage _ via Newseum.

Alaska newspaper sale: a second look at money, logic behind purchase

The news out of Anchorage Tuesday afternoon had one of those story lines too good to check — plucky little digital upstart Alaska Dispatch is buying the legacy Anchorage Daily News for $34 million from The McClatchy Co.

Well, yes. But several accounts, including those of The Associated Press and Reuters, neglected to mention that Alaska Dispatch owner Alice Rogoff is married to multi-billionaire David Rubenstein, co-founder of The Carlyle Group private equity firm. The Dispatch, in its thorough takeout on Rogoff, noted that she is wealthy in her own right. Her father was an engineer and businessman who invented a key component of GPS systems and cell phones.

So the financial story is that another rich person has bought another hometown paper.  A little twist was that the Anchorage Daily News was not for sale until Rogoff made her offer. McClatchy shares took a modest bump up the morning after the sale, indicating the stock market is good with this kind of sell-off. Read more

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Monday, Mar. 24, 2014

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At Newspaper Association of America conference, content — and passion — make a surprise appearance

I went to last week’s NAA mediaXchange conference in Denver anticipating I would hear plenty of talk of big data, native advertising, mobile apps and social media. And I did. A less expected discovery: the concept of focusing coverage in a given paper’s print editions and website on a handful of “passion topics” particular to that community is picking up steam.

Make no mistake. Advertising sales and revenue are still the main event when 1,000 business side execs and vendors gather. But having attended many an NAA or investors conference where news and journalism made only a cameo appearance, I am heartened to see distinctive content given its due as a strategic investment in the industry’s future. Read more

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Monday, Mar. 17, 2014

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Time to ditch uniques and page views for engagement in measuring digital audiences

When Nieman Lab’s Josh Benton asked me in December for a New Year’s prediction, I leaned toward the bombastic and led my wish list for 2014 as follows:

Ditch uniques and develop a better metric. Then-Newspaper Association of America president Mark Contreras was right when he made this case four years ago. It still hasn’t happened. One- or two-time visitors are not a business opportunity — they are an accident.

So we are two-and-a-half months into the year, and I am sorry to report that uniques and its evil twin, page views, are still with us — offered as the basic yardstick for digital audience for both individual sites and whole industries.

But I took cheer last week when three separate sources made the case that attention and engagement matter more.

Chartbeat CEO Tony Haile led off with an iconoclastic essay for Time.com titled “What You Think You Know About the Web Is Wrong.”

Chartbeat’s existence and success are themselves indicators of the imperative to get beyond clicks. Read more

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Friday, Mar. 07, 2014

A USA Today newspaper box is shown in Charlotte, N.C., Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2009. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

USA Today’s two-year strategic overhaul gains traction

(This case study, the fourth in an occasional series, was underwritten by a grant from the Stibo Foundation.)

USA Today has probably changed more in the last two years than in its previous 30.

Always a circulation-driven enterprise, the paper now has a radically different audience strategy, substituting mobile app traffic for the rapidly falling readership of its legacy print edition and folding a new condensed USA Today section into the largest 35 of Gannett’s 81 community newspapers.

Publisher Larry Kramer and his hand-picked editor, David Callaway, brought several decades of digital experience to the formidable task of finally breaking away from a print-first culture in the USA Today newsroom.

That these things happened has been reported by the company in recent presentations to investors, in two stories by the Wrap’s Sharon Waxman and in a nice summary piece this week by David Cay Johnston at CJR.com.

How it all happened is quite a tale as well — a combination of bold moves and smart mid-course adjustments, a case in point of digital transformation generally but also one that required shedding the particular baggage of USA Today’s brief but turbulent history. Read more

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Monday, Mar. 03, 2014

Marc Andreessen (AP photo)

What Marc Andreessen got right and got wrong in his future of news manifesto

When the history of journalism’s turnaround is written some years hence, I think 2013 and 2014 will go down as years when Internet billionaires, the new Carnegies and Rockefellers, stepped into the fray in a big way — Jeff Bezos, Pierre Omidyar (and let’s not forget more traditional rich guys John Henry and Warren Buffett).

Now comes Marc Andreessen, Netscape founder and venture capitalist, with a take on the future of the business that is wildly optimistic, dare we say, irrationally exuberant.

His essay last week on where news is headed, well summarized in a Wired piece and readable itself, projects exponential growth in market demand. Andreessen sees solid Internet businesses with strong financial backing coming into their own even as legacy platforms continue to falter.

Much of his analysis is persuasive if not totally original. He is surely right that rebundling of news is booming. New aggregation sites with a social media twist, led by BuzzFeed, are working ingenious variations on the first wave like The Huffington Post. Read more

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Monday, Feb. 24, 2014

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NAA: ‘Print only’ still more than half of newspaper audience even as digital grows

A new analysis of the most recent newspaper audience reports suggests a surprising split in reading habits. Digital audience continues to grow. Mobile audience is growing quickly. Mobile-only audience, though much smaller, has grown to 7 million.

Yet more than half of newspaper audience — 54 percent as measured by Scarborough research in 150 large markets — still read their local paper’s news report only in print.

There is an important qualifier to that finding. The 54 percent may consume a substantial amount of national news on various digital platforms, but even with the growth of print + digital access subscriptions, they do not visit their hometown paper’s website.

John Murray, the Newspaper Association of America’s vice president of audience development, generated a number of other headline findings in his analysis published on the NAA site (members-only) earlier this month:

  • Total daily circulation was up 3 percent year-to-year and Sunday circulation 1.6 percent among 541 daily papers reporting results to the Association of Audited Media (AAM) for the six-month periods ending Sept.
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Wednesday, Feb. 05, 2014

Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2011 in New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

As The New York Times debuts its template for native ads, will other newspapers follow?

When The New York Times offered the first native ad on its website Jan. 8, reviews were mixed. Some thought the Times offered too much of a good thing with a half-dozen disclaimers that the story-like piece was advertising. Others opined that despite all the labels, the Times was stepping down the road to perdition hosting paid content from computer giant Dell.

I’d say each side has a point, but the bigger question is whether the Times way, like its approach to a digital paywall three years ago, will set the pattern for the newspaper industry’s belated foray into the hot native format.

In a brief phone interview, Caroline Little, president of the Newspaper Association of America, agreed with my assessment that newspaper organizations are eagerly exploring the possibilities but have barely started yet with native ads and other forms of sponsored content. And the hard breaking news of the typical website will pose a particular challenge to creating sponsored ad messages that fit right in. Read more

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Friday, Jan. 17, 2014

Magazines, including a Rolling Stone issue featuring president-elect Barack Obama, are displayed at a newsstand Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2009 in New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

Magazine industry ad decline slowing, but 4th quarter not good

The final tally came in this week for print magazine advertising in 2013. It is the typical good news/bad news scenario.

Ad pages — the industry’s traditional measure — were down 4.1 percent for the year. That could be read as a step forward from 2012 when the decline was 8.2 percent.

Quarterly year-to-year comparisons had improved through the year, with the third quarter off just 1.8 percent compared to a year earlier, the best performance in two years. But the fourth quarter headed back the wrong way, off 4.8 percent, indicating marketing budget cuts at year’s end and perhaps a below par holiday season.

The weak fourth quarter at magazines suggests that newspaper ad results for the period, which will be reported by public companies in February and for the industry in March will probably soften too.

We will return to the overall measures in a minute, but here is a tasty tidbit.  Read more

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