August 14, 2012

Ashes to Ashes: The Death of Print Media & The Rise of the Machines

At Three Pillar Global, we work frequently with clients in the media space to help them envision their software products of the future. That’s one reason we read this Adweek article on the decline of magazine newsstand sales with interest over the weekend. It’s also why we were so riveted by the Newsweek drama that unfolded at the end of last month.

In case you missed it, IAC’s Barry Diller was reported to have said that Newsweek would become a strictly digital magazine sometime this fall. A minor hubbub ensued, but regardless of whether his words were taken out of context, Diller’s commentary on the state of print media in general – that it’s a tough nut to crack – is hard to question. Newsweek, after all, is the magazine that was sold for a whopping $1.00 back in 2010.

So how do traditional print media companies survive in this day and age? Very carefully. The fact of the matter is that there’s no “magic bullet” for a print magazine like Newsweek to regain the circulation and advertising dollars of yesteryear. But there are several steps we have taken with numerous media clients that help them create new revenue streams and reach new customers.

Without giving away all our secret sauce, here are three:

Define your mobile strategy, then make the leap. People are accessing content from more devices than ever. Creating mobile products with elegant user experiences isn’t quick or easy, so if you don’t have a mobile strategy in place, now is the time to start white-boarding.

Give your product away, then grow audiences and ad dollars. The New York Times great paywall experiment is working out pretty nicely. Not many media entities, however, are in a position to charge users $15-$35/month. We’re big believers in getting a product into as many people’s hands as possible, and then figuring out how to continue making that product better. The moral of the story?  Don’t try to eat the elephant in one bite: create a maximally awesome, minimally viable product and then iterate.  Use the power of the medium to collect valuable feedback, while generating immediate returns.

Imagine what people will want from you in 5 years, then reinvent yourself in that mold. The times they are a changin’, and unless today’s media companies want to suffer death by a thousand cuts, they need to reimagine the way they think of their products. No longer is black text on a white page with a few color pictures interspersed throughout good enough to land you on the figurative front stoop of a massive audience. An excellent example of a company who is putting this idea into practice is The Boston Globe, with their commitment to responsive design and providing multiple different electronic formats from which readers can choose.

Barry, if you’re reading, feel free to drop me a line.