Publications switch to digital-first technology

Posted by Chelsea Rink

It isn’t news anymore that publications around the globe are struggling to keep up their readership. It’s not news that the journalism industry is undergoing some vast changes. However, there have been a handful of recently significant occurrences within the world of news output worth noting – specifically regarding the switch to digital-first publications.

Most recently, Newsweek announced its decision to switch to a subscription-based digital publication. According to Newspaper Death Watch, Paul Gillin’s blog documenting the changes to and decline of readership in newspaper publication, Newsweek’s switch did not necessarily come as a surprise. With Newsweek gone from street vendor stands following competitor US News & World Report – which exited the print publication scene two years ago – now only Time magazine continues to publish its print edition. But how long will this last?

AdWeek believes it won’t last long. Based on previous switches to digital-first strategies – exemplified by the Journal Register, Co.’s bankruptcy in early September after its switch to digital-first media – this medium has yet to create a successful model. Unless Newsweek can accumulate thousands of subscribers with their new online edition, AdWeek suggests they could quietly fold.

While a successful model for digital-first technology has not necessarily come into existence, there is something to this developing medium. It’s cheaper and it provides more material and freedom to the reader. And the importance of digital technology – particular cellular technology – is pushing newspapers towards web publications faster and faster. Many college newspapers have begun to experiment with digital publications. Even at the high school level, digital publications are gaining importance. Currently, Johnston High School is looking into creating a news website and in turn adjusting their monthly newspaper to include less news and more features. They have talked about the possibility of eventually eliminating their paper edition altogether.

But here’s a surprise: newspaper revenue is predicted to increase in 2013 – the first time for anything but decline in revenue since 2006. While Borrell Associates say it will only go up by .5%, any increase comes as good news. Maybe the newspaper industry isn’t on the outs after all.

Personally, I believe publications are wise to keep their print editions running as well as to invest in online editions. At this point, who knows where the industry is headed? The best anyone can do is be knowledgeable in both print and online technologies so that if readers do tend to prefer one medium over the other, and if the future does choose for us one medium over the other, we are well-versed in both.

Should news companies make the switch to digital-first media? Is it worth it to keep the print publications? Should high schools and colleges consider making the switch?


9 responses to “Publications switch to digital-first technology

  1. You have brought up some great questions. I think for high schools, they normally don’t make money on their print editions which are free and it is an expense for the district. I know of a school that tried online only for the district newsletter except for one or two editions each year, and they ended up going back to mailing it. The local post office was inundated with phone calls when they first went online because people were missing their monthly mail version. One person I know of who complained about it going online had no idea that it had gone online even though the district informed readers that they were going online only before it happened, so was this person even reading the newsletter?
    I think people miss out on information with online only versions of print because sometimes people don’t think of reading a story unless something attracts their eye like a headline and a photo. With print, that publication controls the layout and design of all this is there; online the reader can get more information overall from the publication, but the layout is different and the reader has many more distractions. I think in most cases, people have a better chance of seeing the ads in print than they do online.
    I think as long as people can get the same information free online that they can get from a newspaper, then paid subscriptions of print will suffer. Unfortunately, with the revenue stream for publications relying much more heavily on advertising than on subscriptions from readers, I think the quality of news and availability of information suffers.

    • I tend to agree with you. The idea of an online paper is great – cheaper, more content, seems to be where the “future” of print publications is going… but there is definitely something about the print version that continues to keep it on store shelves. The fact that the paper prioritizes information for the reader helps the reader to distinguish which articles are worth reading, which can be skimmed, and makes catching up on the main points of the news relatively easy; with online versions, it’s anyone’s game as to which articles should be read over others – there’s a whole lotta content there, and not enough time to read it all.

      You bring up a good point – because publications are heavily reliant on advertising, and not subscriptions of the readers, does the quality of the news suffer? I definitely think that in some cases it does. This is where a strong journalism moral and ethical code comes in.

  2. Wow, I can’t imagine a high school newspaper without, well, the paper. My high school newspaper introduced me to journalism and ultimately led me to pursue journalism at Drake, so I, too, hope Johnston keeps its print edition along with its online edition. I agree with your comment about the necessity of teaching both print and online mediums. By learning both, journalists gain versatility.

  3. I really like that high schools and colleges are starting to work with digital mediums. Even if the entire industry isn’t headed online I think that there will be a lot more content on websites and apps and students need to know how to work with those programs. I completely agree that newspapers and magazines should continue to keep their print edition as well as investing in digital. A lot of brands have different content on their app and will include videos or more pictures with a magazine. I do not have an ipad to read magazines on but I’m still very interested to see what happens with these apps.

  4. I am a bit nostalgic, so I will always be a person who likes to read from an actual print publication. I know there are other people out there who are like me, but the digital lovers are constantly growing.

    I definitely think that it is important to be involved in the digital aspect of publication. If you aren’t, then you’re behind and you’re not reaching the digital audience, which is huge. I think it is interesting and beneficial that high schools/colleges are working on digital publications. This will only benefit those students who work on those publications more. They will know how to do the work, and future employers will respect that.

  5. I think I agree with Adweek in saying that Newsweek is probably going to go the way of the dodo. I don’t know if a digital only strategy is going to be a successful model especially for a weekly news magazine. I think that’s a lot of the problems with the weekly news magazines’ format. People want information now, and they aren’t as concerned with in-depth coverage at the moment. That may change, but it may not. I don’t think anyone is going to look for a week-old story on the internet. It will be good for research, but that’s about it.

    As for high school and college newspapers, I think the idea of print is cool. It’s fun to hold something in your hand that you did. Print is permanence. The web is fleeting, or worse buried by other content. I understand the money decisions, but sometimes you have to pay for what’s cool.

    • I agree with your comment about people not wanting week-old stories on the internet, save for research purposes. When and if I look to online stories, it’s only to gain a quick look into the goings on in the world – I almost never have time to read an entire story. I don’t have time for that! I have Facebook to check, assignments to do, online shopping sites to explore…

  6. I was pretty surprised when I heard that Newsweek was going to stop publishing their print magazine. It was a slight reality check for me, but I’m not sure about the industry.
    It’s hard to know where either newspapers and magazines are headed – iPad pubs are great, but I can’t say that I’ve ever preferred an iPad edition to the physical print one. I agree with you, Cecily – I need that magazine or paper in my hand to enjoy it. We’re so inundated with screens every day. I just wonder when both sides will find a balance.
    I wonder where that 0.5% revenue increase comes from. I’d be willing to bet it’s from paywalls instituted online, which is a promising extra revenue source, but I’m not sure revenue from online will be able to sustain print publications.

  7. Pingback: My First Personal Digital Publication | Saul Tower

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