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Content is King Whatever The Format

Jun 27, 2012

By: Vanessa Horwell, Chief Visibility Officer of ThinkInk

SmartMoney, the Dow Jones monthly personal finance magazine, is no longer a smart place for the company to put its dough. Like many print editions before it, SmartMoney has wised up and is going all-digital, the company just announced.

But is it really all so black and white?

The magazine, whose target audience is affluent movers and shakers (and those who like to be smart about their finances), will be sharing a space in the print graveyard with publications such as the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Condé Nast’s Gourmet and Portfolio, and The Rocky Mountain News as well as dozens of smaller, local daily papers. How the mighty have fallen.

We all know the Internet revolution has irrevocably changed the world of print. But the question is has it really changed it for the worse for all time?

I’d say no.

While there’s no debate that the web has utterly shattered traditional business models and upended newspapers’ information gathering and production monopoly, it’s also forcing some positive changes too, while demonstrating that elements of the digital world can still be successfully merged with the print world.

Digital’s print potential unfolds (pun intended) in two critical ways. One is through QR codes. By tagging traditional print publications with these supped up bar codes allows readers to augment their print experience with their smartphone or tablet and engage content digitally, be it stories or coupons, video or audio. Just think of reading a print article and watching a video related to a story activated by QR code.

The second way, as demonstrated by the Dow Jones SmartMoney decision, is to go all digital. By doing so, the company will lighten its shipping and fuel delivery costs while possibly gaining new readers and of course, online and mobile ad sales – revenue that can be dispersed through the entire Dow Jones brand and used to shore up any lackluster sales in their other print publications.

Rather than the doom and gloom often and perhaps too often portrayed by TV talking heads, a more nuanced digital and print picture is emerging. Think of it like the growing energy mix where oil, gas, coal and nuclear power are being rounded out with an assortment of green fuels.

The media mix has arrived too. And regardless of medium, content remains king.

Speaking of the media mix, take a look at Bloomberg Businessweek which launched an iPad edition a little over a year ago and today boasts over 100,000 paying digital subscribers. Then look at The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and TIME Magazine. These publications have tackled the print versus digital challenge head on, and are proving that people will pay for digital subscriptions if the content is relevant and of quality.

Ultimately, there will always be an audience for news. Regardless of how news content is delivered, people still want to read about crime, disasters, the Kardashians, political scandals – be they of the City Hall or the Capitol Hill variety – and the issues that impact their lives. Print remains the ultimate portable medium: it’s lightweight, low cost, easily disposable and made from renewable resources.

That said, about two weeks ago I published a post in Mobile Commerce Daily where I predicted that, given current adoption rates, tablets will end up surpassing smartphones as the primary way consumers access the Internet and consume news. Print publishers who take advantage of the larger, sharper screens and lean-back ease of tablets and their ad-sales potential could end up boosting  subscriber numbers to keep their print editions alive.

As for newspapers, who knows? Some of the biggies – e.g. The New York Times, The Boston Globe – have put up “soft” paywalls, which allow some content to be viewed for free, and many others, like the McClatchy chain, are experimenting with paywalls, which could prove successful as long as they keep them soft, unlike, say, The Wall Street Journal, which has had a “hard” paywall from the start.

Paywalls or not, technological advances are changing the media landscape so fast that predicting what is going to happen next is an iffy game. But there are growing indications that the era of print revenue bludgeoning is ending and a new print-digital alliance is being forged. Whether read off a tablet made of silicon or a paper product made from cellulose, I truly believe that content is king and that both mediums can help each other.

So was Dow Jones smart by putting its SmartMoney elsewhere?

Only time will tell.

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