Traditional Journalism is Dying: Why the Publishing Industry Must Adapt to Survive

Traditional Journalism is Dying: Why the Publishing Industry Must Adapt to Survive
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More than half the people who clicked on this article will stop reading within 15 seconds.

That's not just speculation: it's statistics. Data from over 2 billion website visits across the internet -- primarily to news and media sites, like this one -- revealed that 55% of people spend less than 15 seconds on the pages that they click on.

For the vast majority of journalists whose articles are intended for more than a few seconds of consumption, this statistic should be startling. But in an increasingly digital age where we're used to getting information in fewer than 140 characters, it seems unlikely to change any time soon.

As journalists, then, we have two choices:

  1. Accept the fact that more than half of the people who visit our page won't actually read what we have to say.
  2. Adapt to the new ways that people are using technology to get their information, and adjust our content accordingly.

To help grapple with this issue, I recently interviewed two entrepreneurs -- bestselling author Gary Vaynerchuk, and Shaul Olmert, CEO of Playbuzz -- who weigh in on the future of the publishing industry and identify some of the key reasons why adaptation is necessary for survival.

Engagement is in

In the digital age, the most significant change in how we consume content boils down to one word: engagement.

Traditionally, journalism is a one-sided relationship: journalists write and readers consume. But as Olmert noted in his breakout session at INBOUND, HubSpot's annual event, technology is blurring the line between communication and content. When we wake up and see notifications on our phone, for instance, news stories are intermixed with texts, emails, and social media updates. As a result, consumers look for engaging content that makes them feel like they're part of a conversation, not a monologue.

"People want to feel like they're interacting with another living being," Olmert remarks. As such, content needs to provide users with interactive material that actively engages them. For instance, Playbuzz's latest format, "Story," draws from Snapchat's popular feature, enabling publishers to presents the content of an article in a series of interactive formats (think polls, flip cards, quizzes), text and visuals. With this format, people spend an average of 3 - 4 minutes per visit -- a number much more encouraging than the abysmal 15 seconds mentioned above.

Impressions aren't the only important metric

Traditional digital media outlets are driven by impressions: their goal is to get as many clicks as possible on their articles. But as we can see, having a high clickthrough rate isn't meaningful in the long run if people are spending mere seconds viewing your content.

This misplaced focus on impressions can compromise journalistic integrity: when a writer's success is measured by how many clicks their articles get, they often have to scramble to find trending topics and end up churning out low-quality clickbait in mass quantities.

"In the short term, [this strategy] might get more clicks and generate ad impressions," Olmert notes, "but in the long term, it'll turn your publication into one that values old-school metrics versus more meaningful ones that create a positive user experience, like engagement."

This has already happened in other industries

Times are changing, and journalism isn't exempt from this. Vaynerchuk elaborates: "What's happened to the bookstores of the world, what's happening with the taxi drivers of the world -- now, it's happening to the publishing industry, too."

Just like Hilton and Marriott now find themselves struggling to compete with Airbnb, long-standing media behemoths now have to compete with smaller platforms that provide content in ways that are more appealing to the end user.

"Content is absolutely being redefined in today's mobile environment," Vaynerchuk -- who has three of his own independent media hubs in the works -- says of the publishing industry's break away from tradition. "Inevitably, some of the big names today won't be as relevant in the future."

That's why adapting to trends in content creation and consumption is do-or-die for the publishing industry. As the way we engage with our content continues shifting, the conventional article format just won't cut it anymore. Instead of clinging to tradition and watching their readership dwindle, journalists and publishers need to stay on top of the game and tailor their content accordingly so that they're keeping up with the modern consumer.

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