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Publishers have been anticipating resurgence in their fortunes in six months’ time for the last eight years. Suddenly that resurgence may be upon us.

It’s not universal, but time and again these days, I look at yet another set of publisher’s data and see tangible signs of what I call the “point of inflection;” the moment in time when declines in print — revenue and profitability — are being exceeded by the growth of those in digital. I first wrote about this in November 2006. But at long last, this position has changed for a number of publishers, and many more are likely to see a positive future soon.

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n the year 2014, we will see the pace of change accelerate exponentially in this industry.

In terms of products, the rate of mobile-device consumption signals what will be the most rapid transition in the history of media. It’s not simply that the ownership of mobile devices has grown fivefold in the last 10 years, but rather the sheer range of capabilities, applications and patterns of consumption and communication.

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It was the sculptor and typeface designer Eric Gill who said “The artist is not a different kind of person, but every person is a different kind of artist.”

I was reminded of this when I was reading about Amazon’s Jeff Bezos’ address to the staff at The Washington Post after he acquired the newspaper. “If you replace ‘customer’ with ‘reader,’ that approach, that point of view, can be successful at The Post too.”

This is one of the most defining lines I’ve heard in a long time. Which is why Bezos is rich, and I’m not.

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Jeff Bezos’ acquisition of The Washington Post raised one of the biggest questions surrounding our industry. Who should own the news?

Around the world, there are as many business models as there are markets. In some countries, private ownership is a legal requirement. Others are dominated by companies owned by public corporations that are only in it for the cash. Then there are passionate family businesses, newspapers owned by interest groups such as trade unions, students, even the church, heaven forbid. There are trusts that guarantee editorial independence within a broader framework, such as The Guardian and Irish Times. Of course, in some parts of the world, the media are owned and controlled by state.

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Some 20 years ago, I wrote about what was then an emerging trend: Publishers, for the first time, letting staff go in order to cut costs.

Much of the downsizing seemed logical to me, reflecting changes in technology that led to increased efficiency and effectiveness. Since then, we have seen the balance of achieving greater performance transformed into often-desperate measures in a quest for survival.

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A number of contradictory vectors are now affecting the future of news delivery.

  •  A continuing contraction of print audiences, and subsequently traditional newsroom resources, across print and broadcast media.
  •  Increasing levels of citizen participation.
  •  Increasing levels of control by governments and corporations on output and access to knowledge.
  •  A diversity in divergence in media channels.
  •  An ever-increasing range of available sources.

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Thinking about improving the health of your readership? Take a tablet.

Meet Roger Fidler. A lovely man with a mind like a laser. His page on the venerable Reynolds Journalism Institute website, where he works, says his career began in 1962, which strikes me as impossible since I think of him as a contemporary. But then he has always been a man ahead of his time. Perhaps the man.

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It was 1978, and as a 22-year old research manager I was dispatched to meet Eric MacKay, the formidable editor of The Scotsman, for the first time. Having squirmed in my seat as I explained what I vaguely understood about the latest readership figures, and detecting a friendly response, I asked the great man: “What is it like to run Scotland’s national newspaper?”

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It is funny what catches the imagination. As someone who has been advising news organizations for nearly 20 years — presenting my arguments around the world and writing for people like you — I never cease to be amazed by the topics people respond to and those they ignore.

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It is funny what catches the imagination. As someone who has been advising news organizations for nearly 20 years — presenting my arguments around the world and writing for people like you — I never cease to be amazed by the topics people respond to and those they ignore.

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The death of the lifecycle.

Have you noticed how as you get older, time passes faster. If I were smarter, I would draw on some relativistic analogy, but since I just had to look up relativistic in my university physics book, I'll just put it down to old age.

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I've seen it all now. Having had the privilege to see many incredible things, good and bad, in hundreds of international trips to more than 40 countries, I think I have just witnessed the dumbest thing on earth.

It happened - perhaps not surprisingly - at the airport.

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It's that time of year.

The accountants are lurking, asking for initial thoughts regarding 2012.

From my experience there are two approaches to business planning.

The first is to simply say: "What are your figures for next year?" The battle soon joins: The commercial guys are overly ambitious on revenues. The accountants are overly demanding on costing cutting. The result: epic fail.

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OK, so we newspaper people are big and strong and powerful. But who represents us among the bigger, stronger and more powerful? I would say it is our national, and increasingly international, associations - be they trade associations of companies, associations of specific groups such as edit…

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Anyone got an odd $150,000 lying around?

I could use that money to resolve one of the industry’s most compelling challenges: how to get online readers to hang around.

The problem isn’t new: Newspapers are read for around 30 minutes a day, around 20 days a month. Newspaper websites are read for 4.4 minutes, only 8.4 times a month. Personally I find navigating most newspaper websites to be a painful, non-satisfying experience. And I have plenty of experience, and a need to read.

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Congratulations to INMA for identifying a vital industry issue that is largely ignored.

The international newspaper marketing group's recent workshop in London touched on some of the most important issues facing our industry: How do we attract news consumers? How do we retain them and expand their revenue potential? And what does this mean for print?

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We're all fretting about declining circulations; blaming the Internet, the weather (that old circulation excuse), and well, anything else we can think of. But here's a thought: Maybe we've simply ceased to exist in the mind of our customers - our readers and advertisers.

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In Russia they say that pessimism is when things can only get worse.

Optimism? That's when things can't get any worse.

Is it just me? Or is there a sense of Russian optimism in the air? Certainly the Q3 financial results on both sides of the Atlantic, while not reporting uplifting revenues, are showing signs of stabilization. Cost reductions are delivering strong and sustainable profits.

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As publishers we are meant to be leaders in the provision of information. So are there any lessons we can learn from our external information gathering and dissemination to our internal practices?

Looking back in the more than 30-plus years I have spent in this industry, one of the best moves I ever made was merging the research facility in the commercial departments with the library service in the newsroom. At the time, it was seen as controversial. Today it is essential.

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One subject has caused a bit of a stir in the Chisholm kitchen. An interesting report from comScore says that women are far greater users of social networks than men, and hurtling toward being more enthusiastic users of the Web in general.

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So once again the world's newspaper industry is about to gather - this time in the beautiful city of Beirut. It will be the first Congress since WAN and Ifra merged, bringing together the leading global industry organizations. The merger was much needed and a long time coming.

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Newspapers are increasingly looking at diversification. Good. But the important question is why has it taken 100 years to get there? I'm not offering a lecture in "I told-you-so!" or providing armchair quarterback analysis. But for the record, I've been arguing this point for 20 years.

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Certainly, it's that time in the cycle, when the accountants get their slide rules out and covet thy neighbors' assets. This time around, the stakes are much more interesting: The newspaper industry wants to secure its future, not just for itself, but (more importantly) for society and (less importantly) for the institutional shareholders who have milked the industry for the past few years.

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It's one of our industry's imponderables. Suggest to the editor that he needs to cut costs, and he immediately responds that his quality will be affected (until he/she is made publisher, then sit back and watch!) Can one predict what editorial staff numbers should be? Yes. But many editors will argue that you can't. I will demonstrate that you can. Here is an analysis based on 20 newspapers (of different kinds) in seven European countries.

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It was an idea apparently first conceived by the Egyptians nearly 5,000 years ago and evolved to its current "ink-on-mashed-up tree" form 2,000 years ago by the Chinese (who are apparently having a bit of a comeback).

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So now our industry is reverberating to the noise of content pricing. Heard it all before? We have in more ways than one. Ever since Rupert Murdoch first began talking about charging for online access, and John Ridding of the Financial Times echoed that notion, we hear that more and more publishers are looking at how to charge for their content.

Global Outlook

Jim Chisholm

Media consultant
E-mail: jim@jimchisholm.net
Jim Chisholm is a France-based independent media consultant.