For readers of media and technology press, hardly a week goes by without some commentator prophesying bloody revolution and the death of the newspaper industry at the hands of the internet. In the traditional and new media market place, audience fragmentation is no longer a question for debate: it is fact. The challenge for publishers and advertisers alike is to recognise, accept and work out how best they can reach into the ‘long tail’ and monetise this fragmentation.
The industry needs to recognise that this is not about taking sides and not an issue of new versus old media. There is no need for blood-letting. This is about evolution and moreover, represents a golden opportunity that new and old should gratefully grab hold of with both hands. The technological and sociological changes of the last decade represent an opportunity for both sides to evolve, working together for the benefit of the greater community – Old Media embracing New Media and new technologies, traditional journalists guiding citizen journalists, and publishers working in harmony with advertising agencies to maximise access to, and the benefits of, the new online communities through advanced virtual advertising networks.
Furthermore, rather than just adapt, the most pioneering of news organisations have recognised that the fragmentation in the market place and technological advancements represent not a hurdle that has to be crossed, but rather a pathway to a brighter new horizon
Indeed, according to the latest ABCe figures, showing ever increasing growth in the digital sector, the digital sector is precisely where the action is. The Guardian website served a record 18,407,758 unique users in October, representing year-on-year growth of 44% and an increase of 10% from September alone. The number of page impressions also reached a record of 168,712,972. A decade ago, when the traditional news publishers were making their first tentative steps in the new internet landscape, The Guardian was the most pioneering – quickly establishing a strong brand, expanding reach, and tapping into new and lucrative markets. Of key importance was establishing a foothold that would more than make up for diminishing advertising revenues in the traditional market place. That pioneering approach is largely responsible for the record figures outlined above. The Guardian was quick to adapt and quick to evolve, embracing the new opportunities offered by the digital age.
However, evolution is a continual process, not something that can necessarily be staggered. Although many news titles have established strong online presences, the issue of fragmentation and diminishing advertising revenues is a constant. Just as fragmentation of traditional media forced publishers to expand into the online domain a decade ago, fragmentation of the online market place is forcing news publishers to adapt again – with the average consumer now visiting 77% more sites regularly than it did five years ago (Source: Compete). Indeed, the rapid fragmentation of the online audience has presented the newspaper industry with a very real problem, namely finding and serving the right audience.
Once again, it is The Guardian that has been the most swift to react. Recognising that the new online market place is a disparate community of bloggers and niche publishers who exert real influence in the chosen areas, The Guardian has built some very effective and mutually beneficial bridges between itself and this new breed of ‘community journalists’. Furthermore by forming a platform partnership to develop and host their vertical ad network with Adify, The Guardian has created a super-targeted branded network – that provides the niche sites with both advertising revenue and promotional opportunities, while offering The Guardian’s advertisers the chance to target the long tail audience in these important topics.
The importance of embracing fragmentation is clear and provides further evidence of how publishers and agencies can evolve together. Grant Millar, joint MD of Vizeum UK stated as long ago as August 2006: “Media is increasingly seamless and fluid, as audiences follow content and experiences across platforms, terrifying for the traditional-minded and their creaking methodologies, but full of opportunity for those with vision and understanding to navigate it. Clients are now more in need of upstream channel planning and aware of the business consequences of getting it wrong”.
Certainly, the media landscape has changed, the balance of power has shifted and for many, it represents worrying times. However, rather than sound the death knell for the traditional news publishers, for those who are able to adapt and evolve, it represents a land of great opportunity and golden returns.