More than 100 years ago, linotype brought us mass circulation newspapers. Less than a generation ago, 24-hour television news made comment as valuable as the news stories. Now we have the internet, allowing consumers not just to receive news, but to make it. These changes have often been difficult, and this latest one is made no easier by the worst global financial crisis in living memory, with media on the front line. But against this challenging backdrop, opportunities are emerging for news organisations.
Huge distribution at low cost is one - according to Comscore, 73 per cent of the Mail's online audience in March came from abroad, and even the Evening Standard online derived 48 per cent of its total traffic from not only outside London but outside the country. Community is key online, and newspapers can combine their unique content with their engaged readership to build loyal internet followings. And there is a healthy degree of experimentation on the revenue side, with publishers trying everything from premium content, e-readers and micropayments, to free content funded through advertising.
The key challenge is to attract significant traffic and to make money from it effectively, and there are encouraging signs. Google News sends a billion readers per month to news publishers' websites, and last year it gave more than $5bn in ad revenues to online partners, many of whom are newspapers. The fragmentation of the media landscape will be matched by a fragmentation in how news is funded. Some commentators suggest advertising will bring in more revenue than subscriptions, but a blend of the two may make a lot of sense for some. The key will be to find the right balance that maximises web traffic and revenue - without one, the other cannot survive. The previous revolutions in the industry led to news reaching more people than ever before and to new business opportunities for those who tell stories. The internet can have the same effect.
- Peter Barron is director of communications and public affairs, northern and central Europe, Google.