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Bringing the reader back into the equation

Bikram Vohra
Filed on October 25, 2020
If the content is right and magnetic enough to attract, then the paywall concept will work in spades in newspapers

(Panther Media GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo)

In a world where everyone is a journalist and has an opinion there is a sharp if paradoxical desire for distilled information

Ten years ago a very senior spearhead in the advertising world in Dubai turned to me and said, print is dead, digital is the way forward. In five years that is all there will be. He was very convincing.


Double that time and while print may have not flourished, it isn’t dead by a long mile. In fact in some parts of the world it is still a winner.


Indeed, that dire prediction should have come true. Everything else is digital from shopping to buying tickets to a movie to paying bills. Why not the packaging of the news. Press a button, come to know. In real time.


Let’s add to the battering. Digital gives the news 12 to 16 hours before print can catch up. Consequently, the most successful print equation is to add learned views to the news per se and that is what


The New York Times has done. It talks to you through print and through its website. Words of wisdom, whether you agree or disagree with the subject. You cannot deny the painstaking majesty of the language and the coherence of thought. This deadly combination of time and content on a digital platform should have blown the print medium to smithereens in any country of any publication.


The reason why it did not succeed and has not yet succeeded is because of one other major psychological barrier. You have to go to digital while print comes to you. This is vital because of the ‘captive’ element. You, the reader, control the paper in your hand. The physical texture of print encourages a certain one on one bond; this paper is yours, you own it. Not something you get from the either radio or digital, that rare sense of possession. Digital has still not surrendered in that fashion and has a mind of its own…you need to hunt it down.


That said, even though the demise of print was prematurely announced, this citadel has also allowed itself to be breached. Once upon a time, print practitioners gave the news the people wanted. Then in a surge of arrogance they decided they would give the news they wanted to give. As the meltdown commenced, the decision was handed to the powers that be who then dictated what should be given especially for purposes of earning revenue. As a result, the reader’s attention faltered and is still faltering. Everyone had an opinion they imposed except the reader’s opinion and he was gradually sidelined even though he was the end-user.


Fortunately, as print around the world felt the sharp stiletto of cutting costs and feeble content dribbled onto the collectively bib relief came through the clumsiness of the market in monetising digital effectively. The bang for the buck was invisible to the big spender and even today in 2020 the corporate sector and the public sector find it difficult to quantify the news-advertising equation and how it works from the ether. Alienating the reader is a given. He still largely seeks the ‘x’ to remove the ad or simply counts down the 10 odd seconds to eliminate it. These negative instructions pretty much neutralise the impact of the ad and staunch the revenue flow. The run of print equivalent in digital is still a blur.


What then is the likely future. Logically, a morning paper designed at night and placed on the site thereby saving print and distribution time.In it content is king. And there can be the hot news, the short read, the view, the long read, the feature, the many bridges of entertainment and information.


Which brings one to the main contention: who decides the texture of the content and crowns it.


There is a very simple answer. The reader. There is no debate about that. Never will be. Publications that have lost sight of their reader profile and are now blissfully unaware of who their buyer is and what are his priorities will find themselves floundering in the dark. By the same token those who have woken up to this reality and are prepared to harness the reader resource and afford him material that is relevant to his life and adds to his comfort zone on a regular basis will earn that precious loyalty.


All this occurs with a single proviso.


It has to be a profit earning business. Will the reader tell us what he or she wants? And most vitally, what would you pay for? In a world where everyone is a journalist and has an opinion there is a sharp if paradoxical desire for distilled information. To that extent if the content is right and magnetic enough to attract, then the paywall concept will work in spades.


Every paper must therefore do due diligence. Not to do so is a luxury not even the largest can afford.


As a reader of KT do write in and tell us what sort of content you would pay for online. Your decision counts as does your opinion and we, at KT, take it very seriously. Metaphorically, you are the clay we use to sculpt the paper.


—bikram@khaleejtimes.com





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