Friday, October 1, 2010

Globe & Mail's New Design - Newspapers Aren't Dead Yet

So much to talk about here, and so little time as I prepare for next week's Smart Grid Summit in LA. I'm just going to cover the high points here, and will do more of an analysis in my next Service Provider Views column.

This post is about how a newspaper is re-designing itself to stay relevant - but it's equally applicable to the telecom world - and for that matter, utilities in the smart grid arena.

The Globe & Mail is Canada's leading national daily, and I've been reading it as long as I've been in Canada. Today's paper sure looked different, and for good reason. They've launched a re-design, and it's actually a bit confusing. It definitely looks sleeker, and visually, it's a few steps up. Every page has some color now, the paper stock is heavier - at least in some places - and there's even some glossy paper in certain sections. Conversely, at first glance, it now looks a bit like all those free "newspapers" that are everywhere, especially on public transit where they create ugly litter more than anything else. Free is hard to beat in any business, so I guess the Globe has to pander a bit to this crowd.

Anyhow, there's a bigger and more important story here. We all know how newspapers are struggling - dying even - in the digital world, and as iPads take over our attention spans, things are getting even harder. Even more than most other businesses, newspapers need to reinvent themselves big time.

You may not know it, but despite all this gloom and doom, Toronto's press industry is thriving. We have 2 big local dailies and 2 national dailies - all paid, not free - how many major U.S. cities can say that? I don't think this will last forever, but the Globe continues to do well - readership is up, the new paper looks great, and they are a leading innovator when it comes to their online presence. The U.S. media could learn a few things from the Globe if you ask me.

At the heart of all this, of course, is content, and this is where the Globe is on the right track. With today's re-design, it's clear to me that they've jumped curves - as Guy Kawasaki would say - from being in the newspaper business to being in the information and insight business.

I'll comment more about this in my next SPV article, and for now, I'll turn things over to the Globe's Editor-in-Chief, John Stackhouse. He wrote a great piece about the re-design, and I think he's right on the money. If you want to dive a bit deeper, there are hundreds of online reader comments, with mixed results. On the whole, though, the new look of the newspaper is a hit, but less so for the updated website.

Regardless, the important thing here is how the Globe is redefining its value proposition and relationship with its readers. They have to - there are simply too many alternatives out there for people to get their news.

I want to examine this story further, not just because I love newspapers - and care about what happens to them - but because I like their chances for reinventing the business. Both telcos and utilities are in the same boat, and if the Globe can do it, so can Bell or TELUS or MTS, etc. Same for Toronto Hydro, BC Hydro, Hydro One, etc.

Bottom line - all these businesses have large customer bases and their very raison d'etre is being challenged by the Internet. All these businesses need to be reinvented to stay relevant, and as the Googles and Apples of the world have taught us, sometimes you have to look to other industries for the right business model. I don't know if the Globe is truly there yet, but I think they're as far ahead of the curve as anyone in their space, and that's why I'm writing about them now.


JuliusHack said...

Hi Jon --

I'm not sure what you mean by "redesigning itself to stay relevant." Much of the Globe's redesign has to do with appearance, costs and increased revenue, not content. I can't equate relevance with a change of appearance.

Besides, The Globe has gone through at least four redesigns since 1990. Was each one to remain relevant? And if so, how many redesigns will it take to remain relevant?

Redesigns have more to do with revenue. As of today, the Globe has a new "web size," meaning a narrower page, which saves tremendously in newsprint costs. But when you change web size, everything else has to adapt, including such things as type size, headline fonts and even the comics, which I noticed today have been squeezed even more to fit the new page.

The biggest single reason for colour is not to compete with the subway giveaways, but to offer advertisers colour on all pages for their ads. (But there is a conundrum here; all advertisers demand colour ads, but tend to balk when they are asked to fork over the extra costs for colour. Therefore it remains to be seen whether the extra costs of the Globe's move to colour will be counterbalanced by increased ad revenue from colour ads.)

I am not speaking here through any insider knowledge. I've just lived through enough redesigns to know the basis of their thinking.

Jack Kapica
Chair, board of advisers

Jon Arnold said...

Thanks Jack - good to hear from you. Apologies for not picking up on this comment sooner. You would know as well as anyone what these re-designs are really about. My post was short, and I didn't have time to go much further.

I understand and agree with what you're saying, but in short, my focus on re-design was more about making the content relevant for readers, with more emphasis on insight/debate than straight up news. Physical design is one element of this, but I was thinking more about design in terms of the nature of the content as well as how/where it's delivered and consumed.