The commercial viability of New Zealand newspapers at a local level remains in limbo, but this is a phenomenon occurring around the globe. From the United States to the United Kingdom, Australia, Europe and Asia, major conglomerates and news brands are accumulating divisions and forcing others to close. It is the convergence of a number of factors occurring at once, seeing developments by accident and design imposing on domestic outlets who simply want to cover the news events of the day, the week or the month.
The first domain that New Zealand newspapers need to master is creating first-class content for readers to enjoy. This will include a team of talented and hard working journalists who cover stories that are in the public’s interests and that happen to be interesting for the public. It can be a fine balance to strike, but incorporating both of these elements will help to sustain an audience for the long-term.
The distribution network has to be on point for New Zealand newspapers to be commercially viable enterprises. How much does it cost to print the paper? Are there cheaper alternatives? How is the paper being distributed to the public? Is this agreement in the financial interests of the business? Whether it is through internal staff catering to delivery services or building connections with local post office officials to outsourced team members, the distribution cost is a central point of focus.
Given the amount of costs that are required day to day for citizens, they need to believe that New Zealand newspapers are an affordable commodity. Incentives like free trials, seasonal discounts, loyalty discounts and bonus features help to drive more business for the brand. If the actual newspaper itself is not driving enough revenue, then there should be schemes and extras that are introduced to add value to the overall package.
A digital integration model is a component that New Zealand newspapers have to adapt to in the current landscape. The sheer cost involved to print and distribute this stock across the community creates a world of logistical headaches for owners and managers. By having all of the information ready to consume through a website and social media account, the content becomes user-friendly, easy to share between participants and is cheaper to publish. The trusted news sources on the North or South Island will combine a mixture of the two, but ignoring the digital component is not viable given the change in behaviours and consumer habits.
Reducing the amount of production and switching to a monthly publishing cycle could be a sustainable alterative that keeps a local paper viable. Cutbacks should be considered a last resort for these trusted establishments, yet it is a method that allows journalists, reporters, sales staff and editors to stay on the payroll while covering stories in more depth and detail.
Although it is an area that could create a conflict of interest in some quarters, involving commercial sponsors and affiliates can provide the capital that New Zealand newspapers bank on. It has been a strategy that has kept a lot of enterprises afloat during a difficult economic environment, financing the endeavour through local business interests while keeping their approach purely independent and objective.
It is a sad development to see local New Zealand newspapers forced to sell or close entirely, but there is some light on the horizon for those that are adaptable in their thinking and proactive in their commercial approach. Accepting the new conditions is mandatory. Once that first step has been achieved, there are case studies that point to a successful future for those outlets that generate quality content and pay attention to the habits of their audience.