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Think BR: Navigating change

Technology is driving structural change in the newspaper industry, but the printed product remains the soul of the brand, writes Lawson Muncaster, managing director at City AM.

Lawson Muncaster is managing director of City AM

Lawson Muncaster is managing director of City AM

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When comments are made that the newspaper industry is dying, I find it very hard to swallow. Only last month we saw DMGT post its biggest ever profit growth while The Sun has recently been announcing record weeks for advertising.

However, what is certain is the newspaper industry is a very mature business that has seen more change and challenge to its structure in the last five years than in the previous 190.

Fortunately for City AM we are a young paper so we escape these issues but many of the older newspaper businesses have understandably found these developments difficult to embrace - particular the changes to technology.

During this time of change, you either go big and dominate or you go small and targeted. End of. If you’re in the middle ground you’re in a difficult position.

I’ve said from day one that the internet was never going to be a success for newspapers. And living proof is that they’ve all invested a lot of money into it with hardly any being able to make money out of it.

Look at The Guardian. It is so focused on its internet proposition - and has been so vocal in claiming that newspapers are dead - that I believe it is only succeeding in talking itself into a hole.  

Next year we will see most newspaper businesses trying to charge for content online – and the five per cent of online readers News International has retained will become a valuable new revenue stream for it.

In this time of rapid change the challenge for 2011 and beyond for the newspaper market is how to develop the relationship with the reader. Consumers want an edited product. They want a concise quality package - they don’t want to be their own editors.

That is the strongest sales point newspapers have and we have to continue in the same vein with any new channel. The development of newspaper apps gives us a huge opportunity to do this – much more so than with online.

If you’re a paid-for newspaper, there is the issue of cannibalising your cover sales. Not an issue City AM will face when we launch in early 2011, but the question for us is whether we can charge for the content of the paper on our app.

Paid-for or not, however, an app gives newspapers the chance to get closer to their readers and bring back customers who no longer read their newspaper.

But as I said for online, let’s keep apps in perspective. For a brand to survive and to go into the web with authority it needs the newspaper product – that is the soul of the brand.

I’ll be interested to see the uptake of Murdoch’s new proposition with Apple – The Daily – which has no connection to a paper.

In my view, the app is complimentary and I do genuinely believe that in ten years time there will still be more people reading the "newspaper" either in print or online rather than travelling through its web site.

To help us all navigate this change, it is essential for newspaper businesses in 2011 to focus on the editorial product.

Let’s not forget the key to success is, and always will be, the quality of the journalism. That is fundamental.

The way people consume news today, because of its availability, is far more sporadic than in years past. It’s much easier for people to dip in and dip out now.

So, don’t be arrogant enough to assume a reader will go out of their way to purchase your product – and don’t expect readers to stay loyal to you unless the content is what they want and expect, both in terms of content and layout.

Lawson Muncaster is managing director of City AM

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