Monday, March 5, 2012

New Pew study suggests that a newspaper's culture determines success or failure at digital ad sales

The Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism this morning released a new study that looks at the issue of digital ad sales at newspapers and concludes that newspaper's themselves, their culture and management, is a determining factor is whether the paper can make the transition to digital.

Pew's study looked at 38 newspapers from six different companies and found significant differences in ad sales performance.

"These variances suggest that the future of newspapers, rather than being determined entirely by sweeping trends, can be significantly affected by company culture and management-even at papers of quite different sizes," Tom Rosenstiel and Mark Jurkowitz write this morning of the Pew study.
Growth in digital ad sales, the study found, varies considerably, with the majority of those papers surveys showing growth of between 11 and 20 percent. Pew looked at the papes that gained the largest percentage of growth in ad sales and chalked up the success to the culture of the papers which supported and encouraged digital ad sales and incorporated that into the overall sales strategy of the newspaper.

"All of our staff sell digital. Almost everything we sell has a digital component," said one newspaper executive.

"Probably the most difficult thing is to change a corporate culture because you don't really have the power to do it," Pew quotes a newspaper executive as stating. "You can change CEOs, executive VPs, digital VPs. You can wave this magic wand all you want. But at the end of the day, the troops in the field hunker down. From our company, and I would venture for other organizations as well, the most difficult thing to do is change it."

In the end, Pew found that the newspaper remains a battleground of conflicting attitudes involving print and digital. Pew quotes John R. Kimberly, a professor of management at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton business school, who says what is happening inside newspapers is fairly typical of those industries "undergoing disruptive change".

"The problem is not hard to understand at one level," Kimberly said. "You have developed a set of skills that have been valued and all of a sudden, this isn't so valued anymore." The pace of change at each news organization, he said, will largely depend on "who are going to be the leaders and who are going to be the followers."
Pew found that of the newspapers it surveyed, mobile revenue growth remains slow. Of the newspapers surveyed, 22 reported no mobile ad sales at all. This despite the fact that mobile has been a viable platform for newspapers at least since the introduction of third party apps back in the summer of 2008.

Newspaper executives surveyed appeared to understand the importance of mobile, but acknowledged that they still need to "figure mobile out."

"I've got a nineteen-year-old and a 14-year-old at home and ... nine out of 10 things they are doing is on their phone. My son will come to me and say, ‘Hey did you hear about that volcano in Switzerland.' He didn't get it from sitting in front of a computer and he didn't get it from picking up a newspaper; he got it on his phone."

The study's summary fo findings can be found online at