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Plus Report - By Thomas Baekdal - March 2023

The future outlook of the brand+publisher market

This is an archived version of a Baekdal Plus newsletter (it's free). It is sent out about once per week and features the latest articles as well as unique insights written specifically for the newsletter. If you want to get the next one, don't hesitate to add your email to the list.

Welcome back to the Baekdal Plus newsletter. Today we are focusing on two topics. First, we are going to talk about the very important trend around brand+publisher. And then, we are going to talk about the continuing growth of ePaper, and why that may not be what it appears to be.

The trend and future outlook for "brand+publisher", and how to make that work

The world of brand+publisher is a very interesting and hugely important trend. In fact, when we think about where the next generation of publishers are going to come from, this trend is an important part of that.

But it's also a market that both brands and publishers misunderstand. Because it's not about marketing (from a brand perspective), and it's not affiliate revenue (from a publisher perspective). It's about creating an entirely new form of publishing where journalism, publishing, and the focus on creating valuable products work together. In other words, it's the best of both worlds.

If this sounds scary and weird, read "The trend and future outlook for "brand+publisher", and how to make that work" to learn more.

Why is ePaper growing?

I got a question the other day from an editor in Germany, who pointed me towards a new study that showed that ePaper was growing (as reported by Twipe), and he simply asked me why that is, and also what my reaction to this is as a media analyst.

So, yeah... let's talk about this.

As a media analyst, ePaper has been a constant frustration ever since it started. It's a format that came into existence back when publishers were struggling to convert from print to digital, and it was used as a kind of delaying tactic, or perhaps a mitigation tactic, to not really become truly digital.

What you have to remember is that I started Baekdal Plus back in 2010, during a time where the transition from print to digital was the most important topic, and as such, ePaper was a gigantic obstacle to this transformation.

But, I'm also a realist, and it is very clear that ePaper has been a tremendously important tool and source of revenue for many publishers, and continues to be so today.

As such, I don't like the format. I don't mean me personally (my personal opinion is irrelevant). I don't like it from a media analysis perspective. Its existence is fundamentally a failure of the industry. But I do understand why it's here, why it has been so successful, and even why it is still growing (in some cases very strongly).

You see, the failure is not necessarily about ePaper. Instead, it is about digital. The reason why ePaper is growing is because our truly digital alternatives aren't good enough.

Let me explain:

Over the years, I have seen many internal data points from newspapers (which I cannot share) about ePaper, and it's clear that there are two fundamental reasons why ePaper is popular.

One reason is about the aging audience.

When looking at the audience by age, we most often see that the oldest demographics (above 70) are sticking to print no matter what. Even after 13 years of trying to convert this audience to digital, there is very little movement or change.

But what is interesting then is that, just below is where we find the ePaper audience. These are people between 50-70, who like the concept of print (like they used to have), but have now converted to digital for most things in their lives. But, they are choosing the ePaper partly because of the familiarity and partly because of its presentation.

Then, below that, as the audience gets younger and younger, ePaper use usually falls quite quickly, with younger people choosing a digital only usage.

And this is how we traditionally think about the ePaper market. It's converting the old, but not too old audience of people who prefer print, but have become partly digital.

This is one way of looking at it, but the other way to look at it, which I find to be much more interesting, is the number of people who are converting to ePaper not because of their age, but because of how ePaper works.

This demographic is spread out across all age groups. In fact, I have seen some newspapers report that it was the younger audience who preferred it (and caused a big part of the ePaper growth).

So, how does that work?

To explain that, we need to look at what digital has become. In the Twipe article above, they mention Aachener Zeitung as a publisher focusing on ePaper, so let's look at them.

Let's start by looking at their website. What is that experience like? Well, like so many newspapers, the website is really annoying. You have ads filling the page, distracting you from the article. There are annoying notifications interrupting your flow, asking you if you want to be interrupted even more.

And then, as we scroll down, it gets even worse. There are more ad blocks inside the text of the article itself, interrupting again, and then as you scroll down even more, you get the kind of Taboola-type content ads that are of such low quality that it's basically offensive to look at.

This is the "website" experience. It's a horrible place to be. It's noisy, interruptive, annoying, and low quality.

In comparison, let's then look at the ePaper app, and suddenly we get an entirely different experience. Now, the experience is more like print, meaning it's calmer, more focused, much more pleasant to read, the news (often based on the print edition) is better reported than the website version of the same articles (not always, but often), and the entire thing just feels better.

Yes, it's hopelessly out-of-date (you are scrolling around a print newspaper on your phone). But the experience is much more like what people want.

And we know this because this is directly linked to other trends like news fatigue and avoidance. In Germany, 29% are now saying that they "sometimes or often actively avoid the news", up from 24% in 2017.

So, this is part of the same trend. The reason why German publishers see a strong growth in ePaper is partly because of the aging problem explained earlier, but increasingly so because people just cannot stand our websites.

People choose the ePaper to get away from the crap on our websites. And that is not a good thing.

This is why I say that I don't like ePaper from the perspective of a media analyst. Not because of the ePaper itself, but because of the failure it represents. It exists because we failed to create a better online experience.

When ePaper first emerged back in 2010, it was supposed to be a short-term, temporary solution for publishers who struggled to convert their print audience to digital. It was a delaying tactic, to extend the transition period. It was not supposed to be the solution for people to pick over ever more annoying websites and news fatigue. But this is what it has become.

Epaper has become the solution to a failure that we should never have made as a news industry. We have undermined the value of our website to such an extent that people choose the ePaper just to get away from it.

What frustrates me is that it doesn't have to be this way. When we look at truly premium digital newspapers, which also have a very strong younger demographic, we see that is a much better way of doing this. You can do digital in a way that people enjoy and that attracts a new and younger news reader.

My go-to example is a newspaper I have talked about many times before, which is the Danish newspaper Zetland. They have created exactly the type of news experience that other newspapers should have focused on instead of doing ePaper.

And look at their demographics. It's amazing!

This is a much better solution to this problem. I wrote an article about their overall focus back in 2019 (so they have improved and innovated even more since then). And I'm not saying other newspapers should just cover their model. But the growth of ePaper is clearly illustrating that newspapers' websites don't have the quality, focus, calm, and reader experience that the public wants.

How to thrive on overload

I was recently a guest on futurists Ross Dawson's podcast called "Thriving on Overload". Last year, he also published a very interesting book on the same topic.

In this episode, we talked about how:

You can listen to the episode here.

Want to know more?

Take a look at these if you want to learn more about how to better sell magazines and newspapers.

Support this focus

Also, remember that while this newsletter is free for anyone to read, it's paid for by my subscribers to Baekdal Plus. So if you want to support this type of analysis and advice, subscribe to Baekdal Plus, which will also give you access to all my Plus reports (more than 300), and all the new ones (about 25 reports per year).

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This is an archived version of a Baekdal Plus newsletter (it's free). It is sent out about once per week and features the latest articles as well as unique insights written specifically for the newsletter. If you want to get the next one, don't hesitate to add your email to the list.


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Thomas Baekdal

Founder, media analyst, author, and publisher. Follow on Twitter

"Thomas Baekdal is one of Scandinavia's most sought-after experts in the digitization of media companies. He has made ​​himself known for his analysis of how digitization has changed the way we consume media."
Swedish business magazine, Resumé


—   newsletter   —


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