The next 10 years in publishing: A testimony from a millennial

Subscribing to a newspaper is not common practice for the younger generations. It was only due to my inquisitive nature about events in the world that I subscribed to First News, a children’s newspaper, as a youngster. By saying subscribed, I mean my parents covered the costs to keep me away from the 10PM headlines on BBC News for some peace and quiet. As teenage years caught up with me, my time for news reading declined and I did not take out another news subscription until I turned 19. Admittedly, what won me back were student offers, free football highlights and buy-one-get-one-free cinema tickets.

Growing up in a world of TV news and social media, news, for many, is a right and not a luxury. As a subscription-fee paying millennial, people tell me I am somewhat of an anomaly. One of the most common questions that I get asked when discussing the topic with friends is “When news is available for free, why bother paying?”. This question has become worryingly more frequent and will be something publishers must address over the next 10 years. From the perspective of a 25-year old with a keen interest in the news, how can publishers overcome the youth-subscriber gap over the next 10 years?

Bundles and bonuses

One of the main reasons younger generations are hesitant to take out a newspaper subscription is due to a lack of disposable income. It’s all good offering student subscriptions, but what about when young adults finish their education and are trying to make ends meet? Simply put, behind the core luxury subscriptions to Spotify and Netflix, news subscriptions are not a priority. For many, they won’t even come in the top 5 with other priorities taking over including gym memberships or next-day delivery shopping providers.

Over the next 10-years, bundling will be key (or rebundling as Steve Dempsey puts it in his article). In fact, bundling could be a significant part of the solution. We have already seen publishers bundling their own products, but very rarely do we see publishers bundling with those outside the industry. For publishers to succeed in engaging the young, we need to see more effort from publishers offering joint subscriptions. When we think about this on a face-level, it makes sense. How often do we see people reading the news on their phone whilst on the bike at the gym? How about people listening to music whilst reading the news on transport?

On top of these bundles, incentivising young subscribers with bonus offers will be key to bring them in. For me, sports highlights and buy-one-get-one-free cinema tickets drew me into my subscription. Publishers must keep these offers up and advertise them better. Whisper it quietly but there is also still limited value in print. Sending young subscribers a monthly print edition wouldn’t go down badly. Offer them other bonuses that are relevant to them such as discount at restaurants or access to live classes.

In the wake of the pandemic, many industries are looking for innovative new ways to make money. These combinations and bonuses would offer great solutions in the years to come. Whilst the big players such as Spotify and Apple Music may not feel approachable, publishers are able to approach smaller and sometimes even national providers. To engage the young, make yourself accessible. Put your product in their direct line of sight. Make yourself part of the offer that they can’t refuse.

Niche is nice

Niche news products are loved by the younger generations. Often, due to their independent or youthful nature, niche titles are more appealing. Niche titles tend to be detached from the bigger names and are seen as a viable news alternative.

Instead of becoming generalists with their news consumption, we are seeing young people preferring to become specialists in the areas that interest them. Rarely are they even interested in every area of the news. Instead, they focus on the areas that interest them and that is where these niche providers plug the gap. For me, this itch was scratched with my subscription to The Athletic. This has become my go to place for my first peruse of the day. There is a lot to be said for these niche providers.

A factor behind the appeal of these niche products is that young people often don’t feel like they have the time to read a full newspaper. Making products that are finishable with a clear beginning and end will become more and more important. Whilst some may feel breaking news is taking over, this constantly evolving cycle of news can be daunting for the young, making you feel as though you can never be fully informed. With the younger generation being more environmentally conscious, digital is also a must. The need to discover the future of the edition has never been so important. Edition product will have a new lease of life and play a key role. That’s why I’m passionate about the work we’re doing here at Twipe!

For future success, publishers need to take a look at their strategies and content. By doing this and finding where they truly standout in the industry, publishers can find a new lease of life. Niche products can be built on top of their general offering, something that might just win over Gen Z. Providing this expertise in a bitesize bubble will enable them to thrive.

Brighten their day

Too often, the news offers a sombre tone. On the face of it, the world is a dark and dingy place. The headlines of the day often focus on the freshest scandals, the latest problem or political question facing a country. This negativity puts people off the news. How many times have we heard people complaining about the news, telling you it’s not worth their time? Yes, the news of the day must be reported, but there is more than the daily darkness we witness.

Once you scratch beneath the surface, the world has some positivity. This needn’t be purely celebrity gossip or latest social media trends as some publishers believe. Young people do want to be informed. To appeal to young people, this positive news needs to be front and centre. Publishers who manage to enhance this may well just be the ones who find the holy grail. Over the next 10 years, expect to see publishers striving for positivity as we come out from some of the darkest times any of us have ever experienced with the pandemic.

Smart audio

There are too many podcasts. In our current climate, businesses and brains alike feel the need to start a podcast to tick a box. What is essential for the next 10-years is smart podcasting. Here, there is a space for publishers to play a role. As mentioned previously, dedicating time to newsreading is problematic for young people.

Audio news will play an important role in keeping them informed. Publishers have tried to introduce podcasts to address this gap such as The Intelligence by The Economist. Whilst these are a great start, there is a long way to go as these are still often not simple enough for everyday easy consumption.

Why The Economist is launching a daily podcast | by Tom Standage | Product  and Engineering at The Economist | Medium
Source: Medium

Moreover, these podcasts still have to compete with other titles or music on different providers and are too easy to pass on. Instead over the next 10 years, these podcasts could take voice note form. By doing this, publishers will be able to send these podcasts directly to the inbox of subscribers. In doing so, this form of smart podcasting better fits into the lifestyle of young people. Informative podcasting will be easily undertaken whilst the subscriber scrolls social media or other apps to satisfy their urge to scroll.

So what?

To be successful in the future, publishers need to adapt and innovate. I’m confident that out in the world, there are many more “youngsters” willing to pay for the news. All they want is a deal that is fair for them. Master this and you can win over the future generations.

At the Digital Growth Summit, we will explore some of those striving to make a difference in the “Winners of Tomorrow” panel. Join us there to discuss and debate with industry experts how we can shape the next 10 years in news.

Matthew Lynes
Media Innovation Analyst @ Twipe

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