Despite the doom and gloom of falling circulation and advertising that’s besetting traditional media - the worst of times will eventually lead to the best of times. This economic crisis will force major changes in the thinking of traditional media companies. Of course, it's probably more likely that key executives will have to be retired before we see real long-term strategic shifts.
The current climate is creating an amazing entrepreneurial opportunity to build "new media companies" - organizations that are unburdened by the vestiges of traditional media thinking - ones that ditch the command and control mentality and open up to their audiences.
Excessive control of content and messaging has already shifted. For the last several years we've been moving to a world of disintermediation. The openness of the web has taken away a significant amount of power from traditional media houses and placed it in the hands of their audiences. Now, content is widely distributed and syndicated – often in an uncontrollable manner.
We're now in a world of audience participation or "social media" - a world where it's all about engaging distributed audiences with contextually relevant content. No longer limited to traditional brands, news and information topics can be created by virtually anyone by the intelligent re-aggregating of fragmented content.
It’s world where publishers and marketers collaborate with audiences rather than broadcasting irrelevant stuff at them. The old adage of the general being pushed out by the specific is particularly relevant today. Users expect information and marketing that's relevant to their interests and needs - they will turn out the rest. It's all about the user experience http://www.nngroup.com/
Unfortunately, it's painfully evident that many traditional publishers just still don't get it - as demonstrated by some recent high profile lay-offs - much digital talent has been let go with the old guard regaining power - this short term thinking underscores a total lack of understanding of what is happening on today’s web and tomorrow on the mobile internet. Medium to long-term strategy is being sacrificed for immediate returns. While some of the decisions are understandable from a short-term financial perspective, in a few years time these media organizations are going to severely regret such brand asset stripping moves.
It seems that in this period of economic uncertainty too many traditional publishers and marketers are rapidly surrendering and retreating to the medium they understand from their past - print, rather than being prepared to go on the offensive and embrace the fundamental secular shifts in the media industry being embrace by the new generations of users.
The web has evolved over two decades from the original HTML document centric approach of Web 1.0 to Web 1.5, which was about interactivity, and search to one of relationships around content - the social Web 2.0. Now it is moving to one of interlinking applications with the dynamic and intelligent linking of content around semantic connections. Content is being automatically connected with people, place and location - the so-called semantic Web 3.0. On top of all that, mobile Internet usage will soon dwarf laptop and desktop Internet usage. It already has in certain regions of the world.
Traditional roles have changed. The role of editors has evolved from one of being focused primarily on original content creation to one of content curation - linking to content from all over the web plus involving audiences in discussion while actively encouraging them to virally distribute content to their own networks.
To quote Jeff Jarvis – cover what you do best - link the rest. Media sales teams now have to look beyond the limited scale of a brand site approach to delivering audience reach across the web. Audience development and the needs of the user absolutely must be at the heart of any digital strategy.
Media companies should appoint audience development, community strategists and community managers to senior management positions to help drive the new focus. Technology needs to be in place to allow publishers to understand the behavioral of their audiences so marketing can be appropriately targeted to users’ interests. The world of online CPM advertising will be under tremendous economic pressure - however publishers that can prove engaged, participatory audiences will command premium rates. Engaged, loyal audiences are the key defensive barriers to competition. Engagement Intensity is today's key KPI.
It's a dififcult cultural transition for many but relatively inexpensive technology is available to build these new media companies - so new competitors will appear rapidly, putting even more pressure on the current strategies of existing brand publishers.
Publishers and brand marketers that don't evolve to connect and engage with their communities are quickly heading to the bankruptcy court. Debt-burdened companies will be foreced to restructure to survive and it will be painful for many. Over the next year, smart fire-sale buyers will swoop in and buy brands and audiences on the cheap and rebuild these brands in a way that incumbent management has failed so to do.
Media companies should look to companies such as Apple for inspiration - Steve Job's leadership aided by a highly competent supporting cast took a failing company and beleaguered brand and re-polished it by focusing on the total user experience coupled with a unrelenting focus on the quality of their products, resulting in a incredible passion and loyalty for the Apple's brands - Mac, iPod and iPhone.
While the economic challenges are significant - a massive opportunity exists to build a new media businesses in this new digital age of audience interaction. Bloated, inefficient and slow moving companies will rightly die but we'll see the emergence of exciting new media companies unburdened by the cultural inflexibility of many existing media companies.
The industry will be re-energized as a result. The new media companies will be largely driven by a new generation of "Young Turks" often who will be mentored and hired by seasoned media executives who actually welcome the inevitable changes. This new generation of digital natives, who live on their laptop and mobile phones, will shape the media content and distributions companies of the future.
The long-term future of publishing is very bright. Embrace it.