FAQ: Can print compete with online?

Another in the FAQ series, this one comes from a Bournemouth University student, and largely focuses on print’s future in the wake of the Independent newspaper going online only.

1. What have been the defining factors in the growth of online media? Is it mostly down to convenience, lowered costs or advancing technology?

It depends who you’re referring to and what you mean by ‘defining factors’ – defining in what ways?

For media organisations that existed before the web, it was both an opportunity to access new revenue streams, but more importantly defend against potential new competitors.

For those new competitors it was a new commercial opportunity with lower costs. For other organisations it was an opportunity to access audiences which were not cost effective before.

For audiences you’d need to look to audience research such as that done by Ofcom and published in academic journals. But from my reading of that, convenience tends to come through strongest.

2. Do print outlets have any method of responding to targeted advertising?

Not directly, no. It is difficult – if not impossible – for print to match the targeting of online advertising. Even if you have the same information about a user in print, it is much more costly to target them by, for example, sending them different printed material.

So print has to compete in a different way, for example on audience engagement, or brand trust or other metrics.

3. In online media, are stories which bring in a large amount of ad revenue and engagement commonly viewed at a higher priority by news organisations?

They are in all media! Even non commercial media will value stories that result in high engagement (whether measured by copies sold, letters received, or viewers or listeners).

4. Online media can reach beyond national boundaries, but it also results in increased competition, especially with the advent of citizen journalism. Is online-only a sustainable business model in this regard?

Of course. Just because a bigger market results in more competition doesn’t mean it’s not sustainable for some.

Ultimately it will sustain however many competitors can survive on the revenue they gain. So it comes down to what your costs are, and what the revenues are, and you should remember that many media operations are sustained at a loss because of other benefits such as influence.

Citizen journalism, however, I don’t think is particularly direct competition. If anything, it subsidises the costs of newsgathering as so many news organisations now directly incorporate citizen journalism material into their own newsgathering.

5. Is there a possibility that news could become fully computerised in the future, completely substituting print?

There will always be that possibility, but it’s worth noting that we’ve had these debates before about radio substituting print, or television supplanting radio or print, and so on.

Print has certain advantages both in its form and its commercial appeal, and in its influence, so the costs of print and ink would have to go up substantially to make it completely unviable.

6. On the other hand, are there any major methods in which newspaper reporting can be more effective in getting news stories across than the Internet?

Newspapers are good for serendipity and for a broad overview of what’s happening, when compared to the internet’s advantages in targeted and user-driven news.

The resolution and always-on nature of print are two other advantages. This is why many papers are already shifting more towards analysis and longer form writing.

7. What do you believe will be the next stage for online outlets from a journalistic standpoint?

There is such a diverse range of online outlets that it’s impossible to give a single answer.

But a big factor, for me, is going to be adapting to the moves of Google, Facebook and Apple such as AMP and Instant Articles, and the potential revenue streams that those represent.

And on another level, adapting to a range of other platforms from Medium to Snapchat, and exploring subscription revenue models.

There are so many aspects of online journalism that are still being defined, including live streaming, vertical video, liveblogging, podcasting, data journalism and interactivity, and each organisation is deciding its own priorities on that front. We’ve got a long way to go.

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