The future of news media: 5 minutes with… Sabine Sirach

There are many challenges, but new strategies are emerging and progressive publishers now have a clearer understanding of what success looks like. We grab five minutes with WAN-IFRA’s deputy director to find out more.

By Sabine Sirach

The future of news media: 5 minutes with… Sabine Sirach
Photograph: Waldemar Brandt on Unsplash

Q: What print innovations in the newspaper sector particularly stand out?

A: Certainly, one of the biggest challenges in newspaper publishing is to catch young readers, in order to secure the future of news media. There are many interesting publications worldwide that specifically target the young and children. Some pick up a certain topic, such as education or job search, for certain occasions (eg. the end of the school term), others create a regular newspaper containing fun and information.

Q: How do you see publishing strategies evolving in the medium term?

A: In general, the one-newspaper-fits-all strategy does not work anymore. Publishers diversify both in media platforms and targeted brands. Re-use of contents for these different media can be made easier with integrated, template-based editorial systems. Also, production is diversified, no longer sticking exclusively with coldset printing. And, of course, cross-media publishing encompassing all digital and analogue channels is a given.

Q: What is the secret of paywall success?

A: There is no secret source for success with digital reader revenue. The best nationals have been successful by disregarding reach and focusing 100% on reader engagement, with fully committed newsrooms. After all, a loyal subscriber base may be responsible for up to 80% of daily page views.

Most locals are still in a period of transition: large Nordic groups can leverage scale and attract talented data scientists and engagement specialists to grow the business, but elsewhere in Europe, publishers are scrambling to understand how much readers are willing to pay for local news, and how the digital product differs from print. We believe reinvention is possible – but right now, the trends from the US and UK are bleak.

Q: How can publishers win a greater share of online advertising spend?

A: Generally speaking, ensure that your trusted news brand provides the safest and most user-pleasing experience for readers of your brand and your clients. That means being totally transparent on the data you are collecting and potentially sharing, and ensuring that your client's ads are being served to a quality, targeted audience beside quality, targeted content. In other words, you have to provide a good user experience. Specifically, consider creating or joining a publisher ad alliance to make the buying experience more streamlined and simple with single-logins, and to pool and simplify the complex ad tech ecosystem associated with digital advertising… and, ultimately, to better compete with the tech / social giants.

This relates very strongly to paywall success. If you have a relationship with real logged-in users using first-party cookies, you will be able to sell anonymised target groups in a similar way to Google and Facebook. It’s no coincidence that the publishers doing the best work on digital subscriptions also have the highest growth in digital advertising revenue. And, yes, brand safety and quality content are also USPs. But most publishers still need to reconsider UX. It’s astonishing that many publishers rely on banners and skyscrapers, almost a decade since Facebook started including ads in the feed.

Q: What emerging tech trends should publishers be keeping an eye on?

A: Three come to mind:

  1. Augmented Reality. Both used in editorial and advertising. New tools make it easy to create an AR-enhanced piece, connecting videos, 3D imagery or in-depth info via smartphones.
  2. 3D Printing. Newspaper printing houses and suppliers are starting to use it for fast production of spare parts in their production lines. Some challenges are still to be overcome, and the technology will certainly not fit all needs, but improvements in delivery times and costs can be seen today.
  3. AI and machine learning. The terms can be misused but machine learning is already a core technology for many publishers – from recommendation engines, to automated tagging. And we need to understand both AI and machine learning urgently: deep fakes use both technologies to create video and photos that are indistinguishable from reality.

Q: For UK publishers looking for inspiration, can you suggest any case studies from non-UK publishers which are worth studying?

A: There are many remarkable and innovative publishing houses worldwide. Here are two examples:

  1. The Times of India. For many years, they have followed an innovation strategy encompassing all departments, from ad sales and editorial all the way through to production. They created many surprising printed products, with panorama pages, flaps, neon or metallic inks, and combinations of these. Always earning good advertising money and proving to readers how exciting print can be.
  2. Pressedruck Augsburg, Germany. For years, the printer for the Augsburger Allgemeine publishing house has followed a strategic approach, offering advertisers and ad agencies a High Quality Package, or HQP, which includes high-quality prepress, paper and print. They have actively been marketing this package to print buyers and marketers and are now also offering standardised and customised newspaper print products on an online print website.
World Publishing Expo and Digital Content Expo are taking place in Berlin on 8-9 October.