I received an interesting email last week.
It contained a link to the U.S. Department of Labor’s website, and to a page innocuously called “Employment trends in newspaper publishing and other media, 1990–2016”. The piece features all sorts of data and charts tracing the shifting sizes of employment pools in various media industries in the United States. Below, you’ll find the big-time takeaway.
We’ve all been watching this state of media affairs unfold over the past decade, but seeing the number of digital-only jobs surpass print for the first time raises some questions about the future of traditional media.
In another life, I entered the alternative-weekly newspaper world as an editorial intern-turned-contributing writer at the now-folded Philadelphia City Paper. To be invested in the inner workings of Philly media, it was distressing to watch a very talented (I believe CP took home something like 19 Keystone Awards in 2015) team of editors, reporters, writers and designers suddenly be told their place of employment will cease to exist, effective immediately, last fall. But City Paper was certainly not the first beloved alt-weekly to disappear lately, and will likely not be the last.
— alli katz (@allikatz) June 21, 2016
Illustration and tweet by Alli Katz/@allikatz
Newspapers, and print media as a whole, may just be headed into a new direction.
But First, Consider Vinyl Records for a Moment
These big discs have surged in popularity among niche audiences in recent years.
We see a marriage of old and new habits happening already, and in many markets. Music publication and consumption in particular continues to forego the process of pressing physical items in place of digital downloads and streaming services. Think about it: When was the last time you thought to yourself, “I’d like to go to the store and buy a CD today.”?
But as traditional medium sales continue to decline, overall culture has begun to place a greater value on older analogue formats. In this case we’re talking about the resurgence of vinyl records and, to a much lesser extent, cassette tapes, among more avid music collectors and fans of owning things that are pretty. Now, popular outlets like Urban Outfitters and Barnes & Noble have fairly large vinyl offerings, catering to a demographic that values aesthetic and tactile reward, all the while embracing the fact that it is 2016.
Record labels include digital download codes with their vinyl sales. Crosley and Technics now manufacture turntables that feature Bluetooth and USB integration. This industry has capitalized on the way the market has changed not by fighting it, but by evolving with it.
It’s Kind of the Same for the News
The bold prediction we’re making here is that the newspaper industry will similarly cater to niche audiences, sort of like this guy.
This is the direction the print news industry has been moving in, and should continue to do so. Recognizing that the internet and digital publishing will only increase in ubiquity, these big print companies must be constantly finding answers to the question of how to successfully adapt to an ever-increasingly digital world. Answers have included:
- Pairing full digital access with a print subscription, a la the New York Times and The Wall Street Journal
- Differentiating the print product’s content offerings from the digital alternative through design, diversity in stories and more, thus creating demand
- Modeling editorial strategy to appeal to digital audiences
- Doubling down on the experience of print, and emphasizing that experience as (ironically) intangible and irreplaceable
From a marketing point of view (that is kinda what we do at ChatterBlast, after all), it’s that last point that Big Newspaper should be investing in; a strategy for publishers that hones in on the pleasure and increasingly “old-world” connection and ritualistic nature that comes with the process and experience of reading a newspaper, whether it’s with the aroma of bacon frying in the kitchen or accompanied by a latte in the airport terminal.
Romanticism, and playing to our feelings, has certainly kept fluctuating industries alive. (See: aforementioned dorks who collect records, or why we still choose to spend money at a movie theater over streaming films from home.)
While print media is constantly adapting in the Wild West of the internet, the advantage it will always have over digital is simple: Turning a page will always elicit a response that tapping a screen never will.