After 18-months as chairman of The Newspaper Works, Michael Miller reflects on the challenges and opportunities ahead.
To those who know Michael Miller, the former chief executive of APN News & Media and now chairman of News Corp Australasia, he is a man on mission.
Newspaper media is his passion – and he speaks in positive, realistic terms about its potential and ways in which the industry can better itself.
Mr Miller is optimistic about a future reappraisal of the publishing industry by Australian investors, off the back of publishers’ efforts to diversify their business and invest in digital subscriptions and assets.
He points to positive investor sentiment signals in the US media market and believes Australia is “still a few years behind that cycle”.
“There’s a greater detail of understanding of the publishing industry out of the US and a number of major US publishing and news media businesses have been re-rated positively,” says Mr Miller.
A major driver of this change of heart has been the evolution of digital subscription models which are becoming more data- led, no longer solely focused on traditional print content.
As a result, some US media companies have de-risked their exposure to the advertising market through an increased share of revenue from wider digital audiences.
Mr Miller also points to US media companies taking a more offensive, rather than defensive, approach to their advertising, reducing costs through collaboration around printing and distribution – and high profile investments in newspapers from the likes of business magnate Warren Buffett.
“Additionally you’re seeing in the US, but also in this country in regional and community markets, the options available for local news decreasing – and that’s more now the mainstay of a news media company,” he says.
“Investors are valuing being able to reach a local market. It’s the news media company that provides the best avenue for that.”
While Mr Miller is optimistic, he notes advertising market share remains one of the industry’s greatest challenges.
Last year, Australia’s four biggest publishers – News Corp Australia, Fairfax Media, APN News & Media and Seven West Media – united to launch The Newspaper Works’ “Influential by Nature” campaign.
The campaign was designed to raise the profile of newspaper media among agencies and advertisers and articulate the enduring influence of these news brands over other media platforms. It used a series of case studies where newspapers in print and digital achieved tangible outcomes for their communities and advertisers.
Mr Miller believes the campaign has thus far been effective at communicating the power of newspaper brands and hopes it continues for a long time to come.
However he notes the industry could do more work to communicate to advertisers the relevance of news media brands, particularly around how they work in conjunction with other media.
“It’s not a substitute to other media,” Mr Miller explains. “The most effective campaigns use a range of media, and newspapers have a role in driving retail, in establishing brands and relationships. Our digital entities also have a role in collecting data, being able to reinforce the brand, retail, frequency and reach messages that we’ve always been known for.
“I see ourselves as potentially increasing share as print and news media brands digitally are an essential part of any campaign.”
Another enduring challenge for the industry is the fragmentation of audiences across digital platforms and devices.
“Our audiences are platform agnostic and that’s the way we need to think. They want the ability to transition during their work day from one device to the next and multi-use different screens concurrently.
“Understanding those relationships is important.” Mr Miller agrees mobile provides opportunities to create more unity among those dispersed audiences, as readers use their platform of choice to engage with news media brands as their preferred source of information.
However, despite strong growth in mobile content consumption, Mr Miller believes the majority of publishers worldwide are yet to fully master the presentation of content on the medium.
“We’re fitting it to screen but not necessarily retelling the story in a more creative manner on mobile,” he says.
“Amazon and Kindle have shown people do consume long form on smaller devices. It’s about how you present that, not just graphically but in terms of the integration of headline, graphic and text – something that print has always done well.”
Mr Miller is generally not a fan of making predictions, especially in an age where technology and consumer behaviour
can dramatically shift from one year to the next.
However, he places faith in the enduring relevance of local and community news media brands, believing they will evolve with new platforms. He says he is yet to see an emerging model anywhere in the world that challenges their role within a community.
“There are not many communities in Australia with a population of 5000 or more that don’t have their own paper. Whether that be weekly, bi-weekly, free or paid, there is a voice representing that community and there’s advertising and commercial partners in that community that want to be around that voice.”
“I’m a believer that in my lifetime that those voices and those community brands will be there for a long time to come.”
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