The decline of newspaper popularity has been attributed to the rise of the internet and the proliferation of web-based content. With an extremely low barrier of entry and variable cost, the web allows anyone with a computer to become an independent publisher: As a result, the amount and variety of content online far exceeds print publications in most fields.

So how can newspapers survive and do well as a business in the future? Perhaps by cutting back and going more niche to provide content that features deeper analysis and investigative reporting. In an article entitled ‘The Elite Newspaper of the Future’, Philip Meyer suggests that the money and audience comes from specialized, not general media.

This particular quote explains in greater detail:

I still believe that a newspaper’s most important product, the product least vulnerable to substitution, is community influence. It gains this influence by being the trusted source for locally produced news, analysis and investigative reporting about public affairs. This influence makes it more attractive to advertisers.

By news, I don’t mean stenographic coverage of public meetings, channeling press releases or listing unanalyzed collections of facts. The old hunter-gatherer model of journalism is no longer sufficient. Now that information is so plentiful, we don’t need new information so much as help in processing what’s already available.

Just as the development of modern agriculture led to a demand for varieties of processed food, the information age has created a demand for processed information. We need someone to put it into context, give it theoretical framing and suggest ways to act on it.

Scaling back on the all-you-can-eat content buffet in favor of more exclusive material does not just appeal to a hardcore audience.  People get their information from one another, not just through the direct consumption of media. Catering to the leadership audience, the well-educated news junkies and opinion leaders, will help spread your content in the long run.

Will this topical specialization make newspapers profitable? Maybe. If newspapers can’t compete with blogs and online news sites in terms of speed and variety, perhaps they can trump them in terms of depth or trust. After all, feature-length content with solid, investigative reporting is not something you’ll often find on most blogs or personal sites on the web.

Daily newspapers will always be around, although they will be read less as more people come to have persistent access to the internet. A newspaper gives you the opinion of the journalist, but a blog throws in the comments of other readers. The web also gives you instant social interactivity, which is appealing for people who want to connect over what they’ve read.

To be able to share an opinion on what you’ve just read is enormously satisfying. Good content can be one-way but I think its increasingly important to socialize information and make it a facilitator for communal interaction. Print publications of the future would do well to consider developing some form of an online component to complement their offline product.

On the other hand, the problem of information overload is very real. Just think about it. More and more online/print publications are created everyday: to track and read many of them is very time consuming. People will be forced to pick and choose what to read. Some blogs will get dropped from a feed reader, others will remain. It’s easy to predict who survives.

Blogs that just repeat information already published elsewhere are providing value that can be substituted. To put it another way, these sites are completely dispensable. They lose out when a choice has to be made due to time/attention scarcity. These sites are usually the ones that just regurgitate content released on mainstream media or other larger blogs. Their identity is virtually unrecognizable. A great logo and design won’t save them.

Sites that serve as a comprehensive and reliable filter of information on a topic will be read, but they’ll always have to compete with other fast-paced news publishers. To aggregate information is incredibly easy. To process, analyze and situate it within a big picture context while offering an intriguing/unique perspective is considerably more difficult.

Those who can do so will be trusted: they are a valuable knowledge asset for any reader.

Detailed, unique content immediately stands out on its own, even without extensive  marketing efforts. People don’t just want to be informed, they want to better grasp a topic in all its nuances. The joy of consumption lies not only in the skimming of a news story but the processing of new perspectives to enrich a personal worldview or professional need.

Publications that provide such content will always have an audience. In the end, it’s just a natural consequence that results from the consumer’s problem of information overload.

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The Future of Content in the Age of Information Overload

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