eSummit: Wartime warnings as Señor tackles accelerating change

Never let a good crisis go to waste. With those sound if perhaps cynical words, Juan Señor of the UK's Innovation Consulting Group, urged action at Monday's Asia eSummit.

Quoting British wartime prime minister Winston Churchill, he told delegates at the WAN-Ifra virtual event, "The world may be frozen but you must act, you can't just hunker down, but need to manage what you can't control."

With extracts from Innovation's annual report, due in September, Señor discussed 'reimagining the news' beyond COVID, pointing to "what you must and must not do."

Quotes too, from Lenin's 'weeks where decades happen', and a warning that "every trend before the crisis will accelerate into the norm".

Key points included:

The acceleration of trends as readers migrate from print to digital;

The migration from ad revenue to reader revenue; and

The "vertiginous collapse" of trust in social media: "The end of free news for social media - Facebook and Google will come quite fast - and we won't be able to find a way forward until that dysfunctional relationship is sorted," he said.

Meanwhile, publishers should consider 'cease and desist notices' to platforms.

Señor also warned that the "populist war on newsmedia" would intensify and get worse. "The rise of fake news is being stopped, and fake news is saving journalism." He said fake news was being exposed through its purveyors - from celebrities to Instagram influencers - with their ad revenue returning to news media. "There's a desire to move back to quality brands," he said.

Describing the 'stumbled upon' home newsroom as "complete nonsense - you cannot do journalism at home", he said the productivity of home workers was down by 40 per cent - "nonsense and detrimental".

Nor should publishers rush to close their print operations "out of desperation".

Publishing should only become digital first when revenues are digital first, and some times there is no business concept behind it. "The trick is to become digitally sustainable first," he said. "It's foolhardy to close it earlier."

Señor said there was also finally recognition "that independent journalism is valuable and must be paid for.

"It matters."

He said people were rediscovering journalism... and that it, like other essential services, were not free. Responding to a question, he said that while breaking news should be free, "deep analysis you should charge for; people are willing to pay".

Señor describes this as an important turning point. "This is the time to invest in newsrooms and journalism, and sell it confidently. In selling ads, we've been selling the wrong thing. He was also critical of the rise of nonprofit journalism - "a really bad idea, because someone always pays, and it becomes a mendicant media."

Quick-fire lists are part of Senor's stock-in-trade, and this week's address was no exception. On business models for monetisation, he offered:

1 paid-content publisher top of the list, accounting for up to 50 per cent of revenue;

2 paywall options, including hard, metred, freemium, porous, dynamic times, even non-profit. "What content triggers a subscription," he asked;

2 the publisher as emotional advertiser - selling psychographics;

3 the growing role of the data broker;

4 the publisher as "club - membership is a good proposition";

5 as retailer, taking advantage of recommendation journalism;

6 publisher as onsite and online festival organiser - "there's still money to be made," he said;

7 as philanthropist

8 as agency, with the growth of branded content;

9 selling cost per hour;

10 brand licensing, like Forbes and others;

11 as IT provider, following the example of the Washington Post's ARC and smaller operators, especially in India;

12 as investor;

13 as educator, a role which has boomed in many cases; and

14 as librarian, tapping the market for nostalgia, comfort content, and poetry - "advertisers want to be associated with this," he said.

Says Senor, the primary consideration is to grow your reader revenue or it's game over. "There are no instant digital miracles, but inflexion points, and you should seize this moment or lose it forever".

• The Asian Media Leaders eSummit continues until Thursday. See the programme here.

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