Last weekend I was sitting at home reading The Sunday Times, the leading weekend newspaper in the UK.
For those of you that don’t know this publication, each copy needs half a rainforest to create. The paper comes in ten separate parts including news, business, sport, money, appointments, style and culture.
Each edition has hundreds of pages of content, yet it took me just 60 minutes to read.
That is not because I read very fast; it’s because, so little of the content is actually relevant to me.
As I was reading, my son, Tom, who is 12, brushed past the pile of newspaper on the way to his computer, without giving it a second glance. Within seconds he had his favourite football site on the screen with video clips of the goals, interviews with the players and commentary from real fans, not journalists.
He just can’t understand why I buy newspapers!
And I can see his point.
Newspapers and magazines are from a different era. A time when they were indispensable to virtually every household. A time when there were no substitutes.
Print publishing veterans keep telling me that they have fought off threats from radio and TV in the past. The internet is just another challenge which they will master and conquer.
I keep telling them ‘this time it’s different’ … and if they want to know why don’t ask me, ask my son.
In fact I did just that. I asked him, as he tapped away on his computer.
Me – “Why don’t you read the newspaper instead of using the internet?”
Tom: “The newspaper is boring … it’s written for grown ups … there is nothing in them for me”.
Me: “There are football results and reviews”
Tom: “Yeah, but the ones on the Internet are better … and I can write my own report”
Me: “What about the other stuff in the newspaper. There are film and book reviews. How will you know what to read and watch?”
Tom: “I’ll ask my friends”
Me: “The nice thing about a newspaper is you can browse through it and you can come across things that you find interesting that you would never have otherwise come across”
Tom: (with a look that said are you stupid?) “Dad, I can browse the internet and find anything I want. There’s much more on the Internet than in the newspaper”
Me: “But it’s written by people you don’t know, how can you trust what they say?”
Tom: “I don’t know the people who write the newspaper”
And so it went on … and whether his points are right or wrong, in his mind there is no use whatsoever for a newspaper … or for that matter, magazines, which he treats with equal disinterest.
I can hear publishers all over the world saying the same thing. “He is s12 years old, for goodness sake. He’ll grow into reading newspapers and magazines like generations have done before him”.
But I don’t think so.
He now gets what he wants, when he wants it, from people he trusts. Why would he change for something which is slower, less relevant, less targeted, more biased (!) and created by people he can’t interact with?
If I was interpreting what Tom said (which adults should never do!) into a manifesto for his future needs, these are the points that I think he would make:
“As I grow up I will want … and get from somewhere … exactly the information, answers, solutions or contact that I’m seeking, for whatever circumstance arises in my life, whenever I want it, wherever I happen to be.
Some of it will be news, but most of it will be information about topics that are directly relevant to my life, work, interests, circumstance, family and communities.
The boundaries between local, national and global will be blurred as my online connections seamlessly cross all three. If I want fishing tips I’m as likely to get them from an online chat with someone in New Zealand as I am is from my local fishing shop.
With so much information available I will seek out the best source of knowledge for each topic that I’m interested in and become part of that community so I feel like I belong, build my authority and continually learn.
My business and leisure life will be intertwined, but I will have separate communities which I will use to research, market, share, learn, find jobs and gather news for my work
I will trust my communities and they will be the foundation on which all parts of my life are built”.
It is not difficult to predict the wants and needs of future generations, because they aren’t new; they’re as old as civilization.
What changes overtime are the technologies available to fulfil them and the perception that users have of information sources. Today some independent bloggers have greater influence and reach than leading newspaper journalists, TV programs and politicians.
Newspaper and periodical publishers have many of the skills and resources to become players in this future world, but few … very few … are successfully evolving to meet the new challenges.
If they are looking for help they shouldn’t turn to Mckinseys, Accenture or Bains; they should ask Tom and his contemporaries. They know what they want …and it’s not what publishers are providing.
The opportunity is still greater than the threat, and the potential rewards are huge …but the door is closing fast.
Publishers must evolve or they will go the way of the newspaper.