One month in and the new administration may be more of a positive for publishers than a threat, but will it last?
Concerns that the new president might pass new libel laws, or personally target individual news outlets with more than disparaging tweets, has so far been overblown
The biggest fear the media had when Donald Trump took office is that he might actually do something. You know, like start passing laws, following through on his threats against the media. So far, at least, the new president has simply continued to call the media dishonest.
This is not to minimize actions taken by executive order such as the Muslim ban from seven countries, or turning up the heat against undocumented aliens. These are obviously very important and impactful among those effected.
It is hard to worry about whether Facebook or Snapchat will be a better driver of web traffic when the real concern might be that lawsuits brought by the government might start shutting down newspapers and magazines. Instead, it appears that the constant news, much of it odd, that continues to flow from the White House has had the effect that many readers are on a 24/7 news consumption cycle. Digital subscriptions to the NYT and WaPo appear to be booming. Things are good, right?
What about the alt-right media? Judging by the number of comments being posted at Breitbart News, things seem pretty bright there, too. A story on Michael Flynn, which accuses the US intelligence community of sabotaging the national security advisor, has over 4,500 comments – a number that normally would dwarf that of the WaPo, but a related story there has 7,400. Readership is at peak levels.
Again, can it continue? Can the public, and the president himself, continue at this pace without simply giving up?
I think there is a time limit to these things, and the summer months might be the key. If by late June things the administration is still intact they may survive the year. But this Friday will only be the end of the fourth week of this administration…
If the last few months has proven anything, it is that there is real value in quality editorial. That readers will seek it out and often pay for it. A couple decades ago one could predict what would follow such a time, a series of promotional efforts targeted at the ad community, reminding them of the value of newspapers and magazines.
But today’s current crop of publishing executives are convinced that the future is about paid readership, and all that money going to digital advertising is best ignored.
The problem is that, when you look at the latest batch of earnings reports, the evidence that this model will work just is not materializing. The NYT may have upped its digital subscriptions, but total revenue still fell. This puts pressure on staff costs.
But Gannett, one of the few major newspaper chains still run by an ad guy, is fairing no better. Why not? Isn’t there merit to the roll-up strategy being employed?
Gannett’s problem remains the same one it has had for years, a lack of presence in the top cities around the country. It also is depending on growing the segment of digital advertising least of interest to most digital marketers these days, buttons and banners.
Few of the major publishers, even decades after the start of the digital ad era, really get digital. Advertisers want targeted ads, ones where the results can be measured in product lift. How many units were sold in this location, due to this ad campaign. Several magazine publishers have hired shopper marketing experts, then laid them off the next time a round of layoffs were required to show its shareholders that they weren’t afraid to cut costs.
Assuming we survive all this, we may look back at the start of 2017 as good times for media, not nearly the apocalypse many predicted. But will the added readership lead to any lasting benefits?