Fast forward a year, and I still spend two hours per day catching up on news and analysis. But the Guardian and the Standard barely figure in my reading. They've been replaced by over 100 news feeds.
I'm not the only one switching to online media consumption. Newspaper circulations are falling. And that's scaring the hell out of most media executives.
In a desperate attempt to capture a larger slice of a diminishing pie, the Guardian has spent £80 million ($145m) changed its format. In an even more desperate act, The London Evening Standard is giving away two free cut-down versions of itself.
Digital cannibalization of newspaper sales shows no signs of slowing.
Newspapers can no longer survive by serving up barely edited bland news-agency copy. In commodity hell, you had better be the cheapest provider, or distinct enough to command a premium. As copious news available online, for nothing, the former option isn't even likely to work
So, what's a savvy newspaper publisher to do?
- Make your content available for free. If your readers are going to stop reading your printed product, you might as well get them to read it online, so you can keep some of your ad revenue, rather than let it go to your online competitors.
- Require registration for the more unique and valuable content such as Editorials and major exclusives. The registration data will let you sell Advertisers premium packages that reach just the kind of people they're after.
- Make your headlines and story summaries available via dozens of niche XML feeds.
- Buy, build, or lease a web-based feed aggregator. If you have an aggregator, you can use the registration data, feed subscription data, click-through data and text analysis to figure out the interests of your readers. You can then sell premium-rate targetted advertising packages based on this information to advertisers on your own content sites and any other sites on your ad network. For example, if you publish gardening news, but offer a feed aggregator, you can take a note of which visitors subscribes to Cricket news feeds from other providers. When those visitors click through to your gardening news site, you can display premium advertising for Cricket Coverage on Sky Sports. You thus sell some of your ads to advertisers who are targeting a niche audience for which your site doesn't cater. You can display targetted ads alongside others feeds. In the longer-term, you will be able to offer easy micro-payment solutions to your users that allow them to access premium content. You get a cut fo the subscription and pay-per-article revenue.
- Buy web sites that offer significant ad-inventories, user registration, and a focus that compliments your existing advertiser solutions. The groups behind The Mirror and the Daily Mail have already started hoovering up job sites. You're looking for ad-revenue and services that you can cross-sell to your existing base of advertisers. You'll also want to be able to offer small-scale low-price solutions to smaller advertisers, expanding your customer base. Many of these smaller advertisers may be open to buying bigger, traditional packages as they grow.
- Buy blog, podcasting and video-podcasting hosting services. Their ad inventories may be low-quality and untargetted, but the page impressions to such sites are growing rapidly. The age profile will compliment your existing base of older readers.
- Make your content unique, timely, insightful, relevant to your audience and offer depth on demand.
- Ensure that much of your content appeals to the kinds of people that advertisers want to reach. For example, target business budget decision-makers, high income individuals and those actively looking to make a purchase.
- Become a multi-media outlet, and make your content available on portable media players and cell phones. Large color displays, massive amounts of cheap portable storage, powerful cell phones and ubiquitous cheap broadband will conspire to make multimedia on the move a reality. Newspaper publishers shouldn't restricted themselves to text. They should offer audio summaries, recordings of interviews, polemics, discussions, and TV clips. Newspaper readership is being squeezed out of the home and office by online media. Public transport is, for the time being, their last refuge. Tabloid/Berliner formats may help newspapers retain readers temporarily, but as standard mobile phones, portable media players and gaming devices become multi-media friendly, newspapers will face competition from TV, podcasts, digital music, Internet access and games. To compete, media organizations need to offer bite-sized video and audio as well as text.
Whilst this is a nightmare for newspaper executives, it's great news for the rest of us. We're moving towards a future where we will get the media we want, when we want it, where we want it.