Embracing a Parallel Universe
As the publisher of America's oldest e-newsletter, I've been involved in online journalism for about 13 years. Before that, I had a very traditional career working at newspapers, magazines, printers and even a stint at a local radio station.
I can't tell you how often I've been asked if I think printed publications will eventually be replaced by digital media delivery. The quick answer is "No." Digital will not be replacing print. Not in the near future anyway. But it will work side by side for a while, and woe to any publisher that doesn't embrace the concept of a parallel universe.
Now let's talk about the changes that printed products will have to make to survive. Tomorrow's newspapers will be very different from what the newsboys throw on the lawns of America today. Yes, the newspaper of tomorrow will be more like magazines, with less emphasis on the current instant news cycle and more on the lifecycle of the unique locality. They must make this transition to survive as a printed product. Newspapers can, will and must have the details of yesterday's news events.
Newspapers will "suffer" from their inability to have "current" events. Anything in print must be deemed as yesterday's news. The future of newspapers, if there is one, has been redefined by the Internet and the predictable development of EL-CID (electronically coordinated information distribution.) But newspapers can have an important dual role in the information cycle. That would be releasing breaking news in a digital format and backing it up with the details following in print.
Will the newspaper of the future be known for breaking hot news events? No. That analog, printed process can no longer be distributed quickly enough in a digital, online, all-the-time world. Today, the newspapers are starting to bring the print editorial and the Web-based operations into the same war room. That is the key to survival for them, combining the various strengths into one very effective information distribution unit.
If Newspapers Will Be Like Magazines …
Now, magazines are not exempt from this season of change either. If newspapers are going to become more like magazines, what will magazines do to survive? Let's face the facts. If newspapers have yesterday's old news, what does a magazine have?
Magazines have niche, special interest markets targeting and supplying the verve and lust for unique information. If a publisher can focus in on this special need, they will have success. Magazine publishers must drill down to the core of their readers' lust for the topic at hand. The editorial must be seen as supplying a "needed fix" to a reading junkie.
That is what a successful publishing niche is today and will be tomorrow— filling an absolute need in a specific, targeted audience. The successful publishers' magazines must be essential to the happiness of the reader. There are hundreds of magazines that work this way today. If yours does not, then I deem your survival rate in the digital world as pretty dim.
Publishers must recognize that the era of generalized editorial is totally gone. When you drill down far enough you can—indeed must—write and appeal to the specific and unique individual reader. Let's call it personalized "me-
editorial." You must make it feel that you "know" me and are writing this magazine for me.
If you can tap my specific interests, you will have a reader for life. And with that will come the added bonus of advertisers willing to pay a premium to reach your animated, narrow-focus group of readers.
Bob Sacks is a consultant to the printing/publishing industry and president
of The Precision Media Group (www.BoSacks.com). He is also publisher and editor of an international, daily industry e-newsletter, "Heard on the Web." Sacks has held posts as director of manufacturing and distribution, senior sales manager (paper), chief of operations, pressman, cameraman and corporate janitor.