I read an interesting hypothetical idea on how to save the newspaper industry recently. The idea would be to put a £2 monthly levy on broadband charges and then distribute this amongst newspaper publishers depending on the level of their online readership. Now this idea is riddled with holes and would almost certainly not work however it got me thinking about how we can move business forward in tough times and declining markets.
Clearly newspapers are an important part of this country’s mechanism of free speech and having the diversity of publications that the UK can boast is remarkable. But the simple truth is that in the face of changing technology newspaper publishers have not exactly encouraged newspaper retailers to see that it is their role to promote the sale of newspapers.
The list of negatives is long and has its development from the years before the internet, but they have been driven by technological change. The peak for newspaper sales was the mid 1950’s and have been on a downward direction ever since, the competing technology at start was TV, but in a free market competition is good isn’t it? Fast forward to the mid 1980’s and publishers changed the wholesaler model and moved to road distribution. Since then newspaper retailers have experienced a hurricane of change that have included multi-wholesaler supply, reduced margins, restricted supply figures, late delivery and reruns to name but a few.
Some independent newspaper retailers still have big newspaper business, but with 50,000 selling points chasing reduced circulation figures there must be a great many who are either not covering their costs or making a very thin net margin. If we think that we have seen all that technological change has to throw at the news industry then I think that we are being short sighted. I think that what will be available by 2015 or 2020 will make the smart phones and tablets of today seem primitive and the impact on print media will be significant.
So should we have a levy on broadband, I think not. It’s antidemocratic!
So how then do we grow our business when times are tough and some sectors are declining? The answer is of course to change, innovate and improve. Don’t rest on you laurels. Embrace technological change and see how you can make it work for you!