Not in living memory has the newspaper industry been so unsure where its future lies. While all are committed to the great content that is produced, individual publishers are taking very different and often contradictory positions on how the industry will progress. Some are apparently giving up on print already, seeing digital as the immediate saviour, while others are committing themselves to paper long term. The remaining majority are seeing what happens elsewhere before committing themselves. Add in the questionable economic outlook plus the impact the Leveson inquiry will have on the freedom of the press, standards at publishers and possibly even which titles are available, and it would appear that national newspapers will be in a different position in 12 months' time.
I'm not going to predict the outcome of the Leveson inquiry other than to say the obvious: there will be forced change that publishers will try to navigate as best as they can.
What we do know is that 2012 will be the "year of the tablet". At least that is what many newspaper publishers - primarily at the quality end of the market - are hoping. Their products transfer brilliantly from paper to iPads and the like; indeed, there are opportunities for product enhancements on these devices. Despite innovations driven by technological advances, newspaper publishers have been unable - with few exceptions to date - to sell their content outside of the paper product. The tablet gives them an opportunity to experiment more quickly and broadly with their pricing models and thus get a genuine understanding of what is valued by readers.
There are currently 3.6 million tablets in the UK (Kantar Worldpanel, November 2011), and publishers will have hoped for a bumper Christmas where tablets were exchanged as gifts in vast numbers, thereby offering them an enlarged universe in which to sell. It is important that publishers are open with their figures to enable us to differentiate between unique readers and those reading across platforms, both of which are important to advertisers. It will, however, be a challenge for some to avoid double-counting.
We will see advances in how we measure readership data across platforms in 2012. The National Readership Survey has announced that, from spring, it will produce figures using UK Online Measurement research, which will declare overall readership across paper and online platforms for newspapers and magazines. The new survey, NRS Padd, will present fused data to give us a view on a single brand reach, with separate platform figures also available. The numbers released in the spring will be a combination of November UKOM data and 2011 average NRS figures. Further data releases will initially be quarterly. This will give us a richer sense of how the audience is distributed across platforms, enabling agencies to plan more intelligently and publishers to trade on more robust audience data.
The NRS advance, while welcome, does highlight an issue newspapers have with data. Quarterly figures do not give advertisers real-time insight and performance. Newspapers have vast amounts of data on their readers' behaviours. The real challenge will be how they make sense of this largely after-the-fact data. Advertisers are seeing more channels pushing through real-time data including, most notably, the potential of television (via internet-connected TVs) to follow consumers from broadcast messages through their online journey to purchase. It is this type of insight and understanding that advertisers are demanding and newspapers need to find ways to make this data they hold available and relevant to their customers.
It is our view that 2012 will see more co-operation between media owners. More data will enable publishers - indeed, all media owners - to follow their consumers' media behaviours more accurately and they will need partners across other channels to sell truly integrated cross-media work.
The end of News International's bid to buy BSkyB has left Northern & Shell as the only media owner that can genuinely say it can sell ideas covering large audiences across both print and broadcast television, but it has obvious gaps in other platforms. Most publishers have an audiovisual offering across their brand platforms, so there really is no-one out there that cannot collaborate with their competitors and maximise their ability to engage advertisers. The difficult market in 2012 will see titles forging short-term partnerships that will add real value for advertisers and begin to demonstrate that the old barriers and battle lines previously drawn are long gone. There will, of course, be certain groups that think they can act alone, but these will end up being the sales losers in 2012.
This year will see new trading metrics floated by publishers. In their bid to protect revenue, publishers will be required to find new ways to increase their take. They will clearly have to prove that they are delivering additional value as part of any sales strategy. We believe that the more enlightened media owners will gain from being more open with their figures, releasing previously restricted internal data to the advertiser - we would urge them to release daily sales figures.
In short, if they are committed to change the way they trade, they first need to modernise the way they share information with agencies and clients. This will prove difficult, no doubt, as individual publishers are very different from one another in their approaches to dealing with agencies.
I can't discuss 2012 without mention of the Olympics. Publishers are putting great efforts into their products and sales pitches for this event, and I believe there will be a significant revenue boost during the Games. However, six weeks in the summer, even backed by Euro 2012, will not solve all their revenue issues.
Overall, though, there is reason for optimism. Despite the uncertain economic outlook, new technology will allow publishers to evolve their offering through the year. Tablets may not be the saviour, but they will continue to grow and influence change. The increase in available data and a greater willingness to share this data more openly with advertisers will lead to a better understanding of their customers. This greater co-operation between different media owners and channels should lead to a successful year for print. This year will see a battle between the more traditional and more progressive publishers, with the latter group winning and pulling away from the pack.
Chris Amor is the head of buying at OMD UK.