This week, newspaper executives from across Canada are gathered in Montreal to attend the Ink + Beyond national conference organized by the Canadian Newspaper Association and CCNA/Community Media Canada.
While the conference is packed with industry specific content like creating a niche product and case studies from award-winning newspapers from across the globe, the two main issues are the digitization of the newspaper industry and the environmental ramifications of the newspaper industry on our society. Both are big and scary beasts for the industry. I was fortunate enough to address the audience as yesterday's opening keynote speaker - my presentation was titled, Six Pixels of Separation: How Newspapers Connect in a Digital World.
In the build-up to this event, I was interviewed by a small community newspaper in Kelowna, B.C., last week. After a 20-minute conversation, the journalist asked, "So, in the future, are people going to be reading newspapers?"
This might be phrasing the question wrong. The question should be, in the future: Are people going to still have a desire to read news and information, both locally and nationally? The answer is obviously, yes. The more challenging question: What will a newspaper look like in the future? Here the answer is: We don't know yet.
We're just starting to see some interesting developments in terms of e-readers. Recently, the new Amazon Kindle DX was launched (only a couple of months after the launch of their Kindle 2), which has a screen that is closer in size to a magazine and tabloid newspaper. Along with the Kindle, there are other interesting e-book readers like the Sony Reader Digital Book (which has a similar screen size to that of a standard hardcover novel), and there are also some new and exciting ways to read online newspaper content (check out the New York Times' latest application called, Times Reader 2.0, which is very impressive). And, oh yeah, there's still physical paper.
As far as technology has taken us, and even after the conversations taking place online around digital ink, it's important to remember that expecting to see a major shift in the current newspaper model from paper production and distribution to digital only is a long way off.
All the e-reading technology gadgets still lack the full-colour experience, multimedia and real high speed/online connectedness that we're all accustomed to with our Internet connections. On top of that, the general population is simply not prepared or willing to ditch their newspapers for a computer screen at this moment (though the tide is shifting). And, while more people are getting increasingly comfortable reading longer pieces of text online, we're also seeing how the online world is becoming more and more about smaller, more snackable pieces of content. Yes, millions of people have downloaded the Stanza e-reading application for their iPhone (or iPod Touch) and are "breaking up" larger pieces of text into small screen enjoyment, but again, this is still early days.
The other shift for newspapers might be one away from pure text and images to full integration of text, audio, images and video. If publishers truly want to be "publishers" in 2009, they are going to have to embrace the new media reality that says it's not just about putting ink onto newsprint.
Admittedly, the news about newspapers has been grim for the past few years, so instead of harping on the negative, here is one statistic that I shared with the Canadian Newspaper Association's audience courtesy of Marketing Charts from October 2008: "Newspaper websites each month attracted more than 68.3 million unique visitors (41.4 per cent of all Internet users) - a record number. Moreover, newspaper website visitors generated an average of 3.5 billion page views per month throughout the quarter" (more on that here: New Media Might Not Be Able To Save The Newspaper Industry). That should smell like opportunity to a new business maven.
The newspaper industry will evolve.
Yes, we will see many of the more traditional institutions struggle through this period, and we will also see many new start-ups (like The Huffington Post) take a serious kick at the can. Those that have been embedded in this specific media channel should welcome these changes with open arms, because they have no choice.
This does not touch on what newspapers will look like once we have seasoned professional reporters saddled up alongside citizen journalists and in-depth features next to Twitter-like blasts of quick content.
But here's what we do know: it is an amazing time to be a publisher of content. People are clearly consumed with having access to news and they want more of it. The question remains: How will the publishers of today evolve their business to integrate newer forms of advertising and revenues through unique types of business models?
We'll have to wait and see.
The above posting is my twice-monthly column for the Montreal Gazette and Vancouver Sun newspapers called, New Business - Six Pixels of Separation. I cross-post it here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure, but you can check out the original versions online here: