Print Media has reached digital crossroads

Justice Kavahematui
Tuesday, 22 May 2018
CHANGE CULTURE... Media challenged to migrate from print to digital platforms. CHANGE CULTURE... Media challenged to migrate from print to digital platforms.

Like many other industries, print media is being empowered by technology. But also the industry is quickly being replaced by technological innovations that are affecting newspaper sales.Print media houses are currently faced with the conundrum of trying to go digital without necessarily having to ditch their print editions. Latest figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulations of South Africa for the period January—March 2018 (ABC Q1 2018) indicate serious decline in newspaper sales.

 According to the audit, total newspaper circulation increased by 0.8 percent on the previous quarter, but declined by 4.4 percent year on year. Daily newspapers sales declined by 15.7 percent year on year, weekly newspapers by 12.5 percent, weekend newspapers by 9.2 percent, local by 6.0 percent and free newspapers by 1.1 percent year on year.

At a WAN-IFRA, Women in News summit held in Nairobi, Kenya last week, newspaper Chief Executive Officers, Managing Directors and Editors were advised to craft strategies to use digital media as a source of competitive advantage. 

The summit attracted participants from Southern, East and Central Africa to explore among others the latest media trends, practical approaches to harness revenue from digital, and, how the industry can deal with gender inequality in the media in all its various forms. 

With circulation figures from print continuing to decrease and pushing businesses into the digital age, some newspapers try to do both (print and digital), others - are forced to lower costs and  go only digital. But one thing is unavoidable – newspapers should invest in digital.

“If you want to change, decide what you want to change,” recommended Michael Golden to traditional media houses that are still stuck in protecting their culture. Golden is the president of the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) and former chairman of the New York Times Company, who implemented and witnessed the newspaper’s digital migration and its growth. 

According to Golden for media to successfully migrate to digital there is a need for a change of culture of the company. For instance at the New York Times, “every executive was talking about the transition to digital media.” This, according to him was a change in thought by executives who for years their business strategies were only designed for print. 

Digital media offers more engagement with a larger audience and according to Golden this is what most media houses are looking for. “We need to develop a larger audience as we move from traditional media to digital media.”

Lisa MacLeod, Head of Digital at Blackstar Media in South Africa said digital has changed for the better because with print you don’t know what your readers want but with digital you know. She revealed that it was painful for them to close the print edition of The Times newspaper, but she acknowledged that their digital audience is bigger than “our print edition.” 

Macleod advised that media houses that are pursuing both print and digital editions should come up with different strategies. “A blind allegiance to print will have catastrophic results,” she warned. 

Migrating to digital however does not mean its all doom and gloom for the print media.  According media houses doing both digital and print such as The Standard Group in Kenya have most of their revenue for the group generated from the print edition.  

Chris Bishop, founding Editor of the Forbes Africa magazine opined that print media should produce quality stories to survive. 

“If it is good stuff people will still pay for it,” said Bishop this week in Gaborone where he was speaking at an event organised by Progressive Institute. 

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