Ailing print sector needs more than joint ad sales

Newspapers and magazines require a more radical solution to drive change - look at the tech industry.

Newspapers and magazines: possess a huge amount of valuable information that is not utilised
Newspapers and magazines: possess a huge amount of valuable information that is not utilised

Independent professional journalism is the cornerstone of an open, healthy society. But newspapers are facing an abyss – revenues are declining and while recent discussions about joining forces to sell ads in the UK are a good idea, it is a timid response to unprecedented change. 

The newspaper and magazine industry needs to ditch its deep-rooted conservatism – and put aside its historic rivalry. 

It should join forces and allow readers to access and store the content they want, when they want it and on a device of their choosing. 

Newspapers and magazines should offer their own distribution platform to complement traditional channels. 

They need to learn the painful lessons from the music industry – for example, that supply-side collaboration makes no difference to the user experience.  

Tech giants including Apple, Alphabet, Facebook and Amazon have, in just a few years, empowered billions of people on the planet. Their technology and global reach are staggering, their ability to evolve at speed is breathtaking, their focus on what their users want and value is impressive and unequalled. 

Steve Jobs said at the launch of the iPhone on 9 January 2007: "Every once in a while, a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything." He wasn’t exaggerating.

According to eMarketer, about 150 million people in Europe have acquired a smartphone in the past two years, bringing the total of people with smartphones in the region to more than 400 million. Retail sales in Europe made from a smartphone or tablet have grown from about e30bn to nearly e100bn during a similar period, eMarketer says. 

The iPhone and its competitors have changed everything – from enabling an individual in Africa to establish a global business from their home to challenging governments and global corporations. This unstoppable force can crush entrenched practices and create unlimited opportunity.

The tech companies have embraced and driven change at an increasing rate. By contrast, the newspaper and magazine industry does little as a whole. 

Yet newspapers and magazines sit on a vast amount of valuable information languishing unloved in its archives. 

This industry, particularly in Britain, creates huge amounts of quality content every minute around the world. And it still retains generally deep levels of trust, respect and affection among the population.

But it does nothing to allow people to access and curate content from around the world – content that can be tailored to the individual and can be charged for. 

As revenues continue to decline, so the quality of journalism will decline. It’s a vicious circle that helps no-one, including the tech companies. 

Indeed, tech platforms complement the newspaper and magazine industry and they’re unlikely to ever want to replace it – certainly not the penetrative, independent journalism of, say, The Guardian or The Economist, nor the staggering levels of craft that make Condé Nast’s magazine stable so special. 

The concept of joint ad sales is helpful and may help reduce the rate of decline. But it’s unlikely to reverse it – and this was before Brexit.

One of my favourite commercials is Apple’s "Think different". As a response to the colossal challenges newspapers face, I doubt Jobs would have found the idea of joint ad sales particularly inspiring.

So hold the front page. The newspaper industry needs to be braver and more radical.

Colin Gottlieb is the chief executive, EMEA, of Omnicom Media Group