This article on the Guardian paints a fairly stark picture about the media group that owns The Guardian and The Observer. It states that they could run out of cash within 3-5 years if current trends persist – the last financial year saw a loss of £33m. Andrew Miller, chief executive of the Guardian Media Group said that business operations needed to change to avoid the predicted loss, shifting the focus to an overhaul of their digital strategy.
While job losses are not being planned at this stage, digital is being prioritised, with plans for new products such as a digital U.S. edition coming out of existing budgets. This means staff can expect some serious bootstrapping to back the digital strategy, which the Group is betting will take off. It’s impressive to see a traditional news group investing significantly in digital, which hopefully will pay off in an increasingly turbulent news industry.
Bye bye print, hello digital
In no uncertain terms, the Guardian Media Group is clearly abandoning ship and speeding up the transition to becoming a more digital-centric company, aiming to beat competitors by trailblazing the move. In their own reporting, they’re calling the move ‘digital-first’, showing support for this medium and strong belief that it can be monetised. They’re not making this move because they’ve seen the next shiny thing and have cash to burn to see how it works out. Their digital strategy is their (according to them) big chance to save the Group, moving investment away from print and into digital. The investment of £25 million likely means a radical overhaul of their products and entire digital strategy. According to the Guardian Media Group, they are also getting them ahead of the competition by becoming digitally-centric, as opposed to just adding digital on to their existing strategy.
Interestingly, this move also represents a move away from a pure UK focus. As mentioned in the Guardian article, the digital strategy includes a planned (though not comfirmed) launch of a digital title in the U.S. Here, the Guardian could develop a completely new publishing model that can be brought overseas to other markets, changing the way the news industry functions. No small feat, but are they taking on the impossible?
The bigger challenges
The Guardian’s overhauls plans also include changing their core print product, reflecting the large percentage of their audience that reads newspapers in the evening. These readers are looking for isn’t necessarily breaking news, but also the reasoned analysis like that offered by watching NewsNight. This represents a shift in the consumption of news overall with habits changing from print to online.
We know where we want to get our breaking news from – we generally go to Google for that. What we need from publishers is content that you can’t get anywhere else, where you have access to their expert columnists and analysts. Of course, the challenge for publishers is proving that consumers still want to go to their titles for that. Regardless of the particular audience, newspapers will also have to turn to social media here to give people a teaser of the experience they can get before buying the newspaper in full, either offline or online.
And of course, it all comes down to the monetisation model. The notion of buying a newspaper may be completely obsolete in 5-10 years as new models evolve, borne of digital considerations and practices. Exciting times ahead…