Content Is More Important Than Advertisements

July 1, 2004 • Media Economics • by

Werbewoche, Nr. 25, July, 2004

Tabloid hype may provide certain opportunities, but there is a risk of downgrading content to the status of ad teasers. If this trend goes unchecked, the media will be digging their own grave.

Switzerland is not known as a breeding ground for revolutions. And yet we are currently witnessing a small revolution which, at least as far as the German-speaking area is concerned, originated in Switzerland and has since been spreading north, while everywhere else in Europe the opposite appears to be the case.

The bolder of the newspaper publishers in difficulty are now betting on a new format: small is beautiful. The trend is for tabloids. Furthermore, some publishers seem to be reaching the conclusion – partially induced by cost constraints – that it is especially the more demanding readers who suffer from constant information overload. One of the challenges faced by our media society therefore consists in delivering news which is concise and focused, succinct and conveniently formatted. At the same time, however, it must not be too superficial and should offer the added bonus of insight and background which TV and radio lack, since in Europe these media channels regrettably prefer to compete to meet the information needs of the illiterate.

The example of the Weltwoche has demonstrated that a smaller size in a quality newspaper does not automatically mean pettiness. In Germany, Springer’s Welt-Kompakt recently followed this example. However, although still a classic broadsheet, there is also the example of the Financial Times Deutschland, which is proof that business leaders in particular are willing to pay almost the same price for a paper that often does not reach even half the volume of its direct competitors.

This is because less paper can actually mean more value to the reader. In this respect, I strongly disagree with my esteemed fellow columnist Heribert Seifert. The crisis, which the newspaper industry will continue to face for some time to come, is no doubt also an opportunity to reinvent journalism. There is a niche for news that is both high-quality and highly compact.

In fact, looking back, one cannot help but wonder what took the Independent and the Times, the Dagens Nyheter and even a tabloid paper such as the Blick so long to make the change – and why the Berner Zeitung, the Frankfurter Rundschau and the Berlin paper Tagesspiegel have not yet opted to make it big in the mini format themselves for their re-launch. Of course this has a lot to do with the influence of advertisers, who are concerned about the effectiveness of their ads and still prefer the more generous design options of the larger newspaper format. However, publishers should take care not to lose sight of their primary customers, who are neither advertising agencies nor businesses, but their readers.

After all, without readers’ willingness to spend time and – as is still generally the case – money on the latest in print, publishers would never see a single advertising dollar. Both newspaper publishers and advertisers, though, have an interest in newspaper buyers who – whether in a subway or on an airplane, at the beach or on a balcony – can contentedly peruse their tabloids, rather than the ones who cast the broadsheet aside in exasperation because turning the pages bothers the neighbors, or because the wind makes reading impossible. In the end, only those who actually read the paper are going to be receptive to advertisements.

PS: On a different note, The New York Times recently set a new standard of its own, causing another kind of revolution in journalism in the process. The paper’s front-page admission that its coverage of Iraq relied too heavily on U.S. government sources and a few dubious Arab informants is a milestone on the long road to regaining lost credibility. Advertisers should also take note of this sort of signal and maybe even reward them by placing ads – for in the long run, only credible news sources make for good advertising vehicles.

(Translation: Fabia Zöllner)

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