Every now and again, I'm asked a question by editors and media execs. The question is simply: Why do the newspapers in our neighboring countries do so much better than the newspapers in our country?
But while the question is simple, the answer is much more complex. The problem is that this isn't just because of one single thing. Instead, it's almost always about the combinations of hundreds of small factors, that each drive down the impact that you have on your audience.
It's like the old saying; "Death by a thousand papercuts". One papercut might be painful, but it's not going to do you any harm, but if you get a thousand papercuts all at once, you are in serious trouble.
In the media industry, we are suffering from a thousand different types of papercuts, and to fix this, we need to do many different things all at once.
So, in this article, I'm going to talk about all the different factors that I have observed which cause publishers to perform worse, and what to do about them. We are going to look at external factors and internal factors. We will look at problems with the focus, with the newsroom, with the business side, with the technical implementations, and so forth.
But again, remember, none of the things I'm now going to mention will change anything on their own. In fact, the aim here is to change the news reading culture. For instance, if we compare newspapers in Norway to those in most other countries, they just have a much better news reading culture.
So, let's get to it.
There are obviously a lot of external factors that impact the media industry, but some are more systemic than others.
First of all is the supermarket effect, which I wrote a lot more about in "Why people only subscribe to one newspaper". In the old market of news, each newspaper was protected from the market by the limitations of print and distribution. As a result, a local newspaper in one town was considered to be completely separate from another local newspaper in a neighboring town.
Even when these two newspapers published very similar stories about the same topics, the markets didn't overlap.
Today, however, those boundaries have collapsed, and the result is that having hundreds of similar newspapers all doing mostly the same is not going to work.
The result is that we see a shift towards bigger and bigger publishers, the same way as local grocery stores eventually are pushed out by bigger corporations ... aka the supermarket effect.
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