While the industry has been confronting its own challenges, its peak local organisation has gone through years of instability. Hollands appointment in May marked the start of a new era ... but left little time for the newcomer to ease into the role before its primary annual event. But with new chief executive, new website and new magazine, there was certainly a sense of renewal spreading to the PANPA conference from the reinvigorated organisation.
PANPA08 – pragmatically tagged ‘winning the next publishing battle (our italics) – was back where the conference has historically worked best, on Queensland’s Gold Coast ... and in good form. Sure there were occasional problems and nagging criticisms, but overall the programme reflected the resolution to ‘get over’ publishing (and media fragmentation) battles lost ... and get on with winning the war.
A pity therefore, that more publishing company delegates weren’t at the Conrad Jupiters casino venue to help wage it. The eight workshops across technical, editorial, online, photographic and sales and marketing topics, were complemented this year by an exhibition in the same venue. While this worked better than last year’s Melbourne event, in which workshops were held elsewhere and the exhibition did not open until the second day, many of the sessions were attended by only a couple of dozen delegates.
Billed highlight of the conference’s keynote opening was the return of Kevin Rudd, the former shadow minister for foreign affairs and international security who had coyly told PANPA delegates in Cairns in 2005 that leadership thoughts, “couldn’t be further from my mind”.
But while the return visit – the first by any prime minister – delivered PANPA the recognition the newspaper industry sought, it was the association’s new chief executive, Mark Hollands who provided the more stimulating address. Perhaps, as president Robert Whitehead suggested, it was the challenge of “grappling with almost as much change as newspapers”. Rudd admitted as much, agreeing that change in the media landscape was creating an impact “almost as profound in your profession as we are in mine”.
It made the day’s online headlines but, hey, we knew that already, and most of the newspaper people I spoke to were underwhelmed by the return performance. While he took the trouble to acknowledge the top management of leading publishers individually, there was little for them in a speech which majored on the government’s achievements and aspirations rather than its engagement with media issues.
Rudd nodded to the demise of the ‘Bulletin’ news magazine and TV’s ‘Sunday’, and the current debate on the importance of quality journalism ... and later got around to the topic of freedom of information and journalist shield laws. And devoted a lot of talk to the ‘education revolution’ concept he says is “not a slogan” but nonetheless mentioned more times than I managed to count.
Concerns about freedom of information legislation were covered with the promise of a two-stage reform and an ‘exposure draft’ providing opportunities for consultation late this or early next year. This will include a proposal to abolish the ‘conclusive certificates’ which currently give ministers the power to block the release of government documents.
Rudd suggested there would be “questions of balance” and anticipated “argy-bargy”, but claimed that the new shield laws would also protect from prosecution, journalists whose stories merely embarrass politicians.
Questioned about his own media habits, the prime minister admitted to being a lone devotee of newspapers in a household which generally gets its news online, “and alerts me”. It was a point later challenged in a marketing session led by Sydney-based consultant Peter Cox addressing changing habits: “His kids won’t be getting the news online ... they’re probably not looking at the news. They’ll be somewhere else.”
Having accorded to its incoming chief executive Mark Hollands, the opportunity to present the annual ‘state of the industry’ report, PANPA was rewarded with a thoughtful assessment of challenges facing publishers.
But first he emphasised its position and strengths, adding that “to have the prime minister here says something about the importance of newspapers (to society) which we should not forget”.
He referred to new investment by newspaper companies – in print and beyond – and reminded delegates, “we still have the biggest share of the advertising spend among media, and people tend to forget that”. There were challenges, but the future was “for each newspaper to decide, and no decision is wrong”.
Hollands, who worked for Gartner and Dow Jones for ten years, drew on research from a variety of sources to contrast Australia’s situation with that overseas and specifically in the “very sophisticated” information market of the USA.
A Norske Skog chart of world newsprint usage showed how Australian consumption had grown slightly over the past six years, while that in the USA had fallen 20 per cent, and Scandinavian publishers had recorded a double-digit increase.
Hollands also looked at overseas models including the ‘global poster child’ of Schibsted which has diversified into Asia and Latin America and now gains more than half of its profits from online services.
To some extent setting the agenda for later sessions, he discussed options for publishers such as outsourcing – a tough decision but one “which would not necessarily restrict publishers’ activities” – and urged leadership: “We need to go back and lead, share and shout the case,” he says.
So are Australian publishers doing better than their counterparts in the USA, or merely taking time to follow them down the gurgler? Could we learn from contemporaries across the Pacific and yet avert disaster?
A good way to judge was to listen to the hands-on experience of Brian Tierney, – who had helped turn around the ‘Philadelphia Inquirer’ after finding “a small group of millionaires” with whom to rescue the ailing newspaper.
Each of us will have views on what’s wrong with the US market (some of ours are in the feature in page 20), but Tierney is certain that “the issue is competition”.
He told how he encouraged people to “get over it” and recruited key staff to exploit the publisher’s strengths and create new initiatives. “We have the best armaments but are the least prepared,” he says. “In many respects the business side has let down the journalistic side.”
Forming a creative team to develop newspaper ideas for advertising agencies had been a winner: “We took an idea to Miller beer and they liked it so much they ran it in other newspapers,” he says.
Other major successes had included the philly.com website, a focus on the “lower hanging fruit” of a female 35+ audience, and advertising partnerships which gave customers ownership of sections of the paper. A concept to place ‘Bee Movie’ hoardings on the side of the ‘Inquirer’ building showed willing, but was knocked back by planners.
Broadband TV was a further opportunity which “we have the resources to do, and TV stations aren’t going to spend the money”.
A man after my own musical heart, he quoted Californian funk band Sly and the Family Stone – advocating “different strokes for different folks” – and “distinguished American poet” (and soul ‘godfather’) James Brown’s classic advice to “shake the money tree”.
Print pays the bills, but “high quality doesn’t mean boring as all get out”.
Innovation International Media’s founding partner Juan Senor – a consultant with the sound and some of the humour of the English judge on Seven’s dance show – makes no bones about the options facing newspaper publishers: Get out, get taken over, bleed to death from “cuts that touch bone” ... or reinvent the business through a focus on ‘profit audiences’. More eloquently, as he puts it, “rediscovering your soul”.
And Innovation can help, with a patented daily ‘newzine’ product ready for your publication’s relaunch. But not before he’s had an opportunity to make the case.
Ringling Bros circus – ‘the greatest show on earth’ – becomes an apt metaphor, its 1967 glories eclipsed by television, trunk-to-tail elephants and an innovative 1987 outfit by the name of Cirque de Soleil which now commands the highest ticket prices of any live show. “Get rid of the elephants in our business,” he urges. “You know what they are.”
Instead he advocates a business focussed on:
• sensuality (and questions why some newspapers still appear in black-and-white);
• omnipresence (but with relevance);
• uniqueness (and a focus on the ‘why’ rather than the ‘what’ of news); and
• light (quick reads and local angles).
There’s more, and Senor has the snappy catchphrases which encapsulate the message: “Our greatest competition is time,” he says – “the business has not changed, but the business model has to change,” – “journalism ... or blog fog,” – “people will pay for quality”.
And if you are not already in that part of the market, Senor advocates change to “own the news and information franchises in your country”.
Innovation’s portfolio includes work on the much-publicised Telegraph Media newsroom in London, and references to Greece’s ‘Eleutheros Typos’ – where sales tripled to 120,000 copies – Singapore’s STOMP with its community-focussed user-generated content, and Japan’s ‘Asahi Shimbun’.
And finally, to Innovation’s 30/30 ‘newzine’, a compact product about half the size of a Berliner, filled with a combination of snappy shorts and longer analysis and with a bold, designy look and the opportunity to start reading from either end.
Life, he says, “is too short to read boring newspapers”.
With the environment a ‘hot’ topic on publishers’ agendas, the initiative by media and entertainment giant News Corporation presented an opportunity to learn how to think globally and act locally. News Limited group environment and climate change manager Tony Wilkins (above right) showed the parent company’s video and explained how the One Degree carbon reduction campaign had been translated into action inhouse, with suppliers and via its larger audience. Some 28 per cent of News Corporation’s 637,234 megatonne (Mtonne) carbon footprint in 2007 came from its Australian activities.
A target four-year nominal energy reduction payback for projects became easier to reach as energy and disposal costs rose, and the benefits of meeting business and staff expectations increased.
Projects identified in an energy audit for Australia would return their $3.98 million total cost in an average 2.6 years and yield greenhouse gas reductions of 16,000 tonnes of CO2. A partnership with Norske Skog would see energy consumption reduced by a quarter (and a million tonnes of carbon) by 2020, while switching from taxis to a hire firm using hybrid cars was another green option. Globally, even the famous ‘Sun’ page three girls (‘Keeley’, left) had got into the act.
“There’s very little downside to being a more efficient company,” Wilkins says.
The theme was continued with Georg Carlberg, environment vice president of papermaker Norske Skog visiting from Norway to tell delegates of its own environmental achievements and aspirations.
So forests are diminishing wherever paper producers source wood; not using paper saves trees; recovered is better than new fibre; Norske Skog is a major polluter and not doing enough to reduce its carbon footprint? Wrong, all wrong, says Carlberg ... and he would like you to tell readers.
Newspaper design guru Dr Mario Garcia was keen to have editorial and advertising working together ... and had a raft of ideas about how ads could work in what might be considered ‘editorial’ page positions.
Advertising and editorial teams need to get together for a daily “ten minute liaison”. There, they could discuss options for working together ... and get used to display advertisement formats such as ‘island’ ads (ideal for pages of heavier text), ‘belt’ ads across the middle of a page, and ‘penthouse’ positions at the page top.
Still unthinkable in the USA, ‘silent’ ads could be sold at a premium and worked best if placed in navigational columns where a reader could ‘jump’ over them: “The eyeball effect is ten times that of a normal ad,” he says.
But Garcia says attitudes are different in Canada, where one publisher has banners below its masthead.
As other media breaks news, newspaper sub-editors were having to learn to write ‘second-day’ headlines on the first day: “The same will happen in advertising (as users follow an ad from mobile to web to print to web),” he says. “The future is ads that move across platforms and the process has to start now.”
From the USA, where INMA has switched from being a newspaper marketing organisation to calling itself the International Newsmedia Marketers’ Association, president Ed Efchak contrasted the quality model of the ‘Philadelphia Inquirer’ with the quantity model of Norway’s Schibsted ... two ways of building a future for newspapers.
“We’re an industry that’s in love with itself, but we need to focus a disproportionate amount of attention on the audience,” he warned.
Again there’s the question of whether to value lessons from the US, where newspapers are going through “tumultuous” times: “What’s unique about the US? About half of what’s going on,” Efchak answers himself, listing the “astronomical” debt loads of some publishers (and high profit expectations), as well as high broadband penetration and a mature advertising market. The lessons include focussing more on local markets, the buying proposition, being “web now” and thinking as a new company rather than an old one. “Remember that disruption will not save you, and that you’re not the arbiter of quality.”
Efchak says recessions accelerate existing structural trends, and provide opportunities for market leaders with the money to push for market share: “US newspapers are displaying no stomach for major changes,” he says.
Panel discussions followed, setting the temperature for the ‘great debate’ dinner that evening.
And when sessions resumed on the final morning, there was a decision to make between ‘plenary’ reflections and contributions from James Gould and Malcolm Alder on strategic transformation and change management ... and the technical stream which began at the same time. Reluctantly, I opted for the latter. (How can you be interested in digital newspaper printing and not in transformation and change?)
But by the middle of the afternoon, we were back together, moving from DRUPA highlights to a final summary session which turned attention to what delegates had seen in the three days of the PANPA08 conference.
Leaders of PANPA’s editorial, marketing and technical expert groups Tony Gillies, Kylie Davis and Glen St Leon – plus Hugh Martin on digital issues – listed favourite messages from the preceding days in a quick-fire ‘40 tips in ten minutes’.
And before it was all over for another year – with the exception of the ‘newspaper of the year’ awards dinner – some of the highlighters were revisited.
Among them Innovation’s Juan Senor, who had been giving value in a session on integrated newsrooms only minutes before. He fleshed out the 30/30 ‘newzine’ concept introduced earlier, reminded publishers of the huge business they were still in, and coined a new word for their editorial future ... ‘journalysis’.
And left delegates with a novelty from the UK ... a newspaper in a bottle, delivering a gigabyte of content for UK£3.50 (about $7.55). “People love the concept,” he says.
Perry Solomon, product marketing vice president of Fast – a search and internet technologies company just snapped up by Microsoft – talked about the user revolution and ‘routineing’ user attention. And a passionate David Leeson made his last appearance before being made redundant by the ‘Dallas Morning News’. “The internet has been the insurgency,” he says, urging publishers and editors to realise they stand for something, and to allow individuals to have their say, “even if they’re an arsehole”.
Breaking out ... for technology and marketing ideas
A few delegates had seen it at DRUPA, others – especially those in Fairfax Media already making use of the technology – had closer knowledge. But for many more, digital printing of newspapers was a technology opportunity whose time had come, and they were eager to learn.
PANPA’s third-day technical stream presented just one speaker – Michaela Frisch (pictured) from Océ’s head office in Poing, Germany – to outline opportunities, as well as her employer’s credentials.
The 130-year-old company is active in 100 countries and has an annual turnover of $5.4 billion, seven per cent of which is spent on research and development.
It has around 7000 web-fed digital presses installed worldwide, and was the instigator of the Digital Newspaper Network which facilitates production in six centres (Sydney, Singapore, Zurich, London, New York and Los Angeles) for publishers including the ‘Sydney Morning Herald’.
With media fragmentation and readers with less time but a desire for more information, the system puts printed newspapers in the hands of readers in “planes, trains, airports and stations” as well as in a variety of other situations. In the case of the ‘SMH’, three sites produce copies which Qantas offers to premium passengers on its return flights to Sydney.
Elsewhere, examples include a business paper for German rail passengers, copies of the ‘New York Times’ available in Africa and Europe five hours before the home-town edition, and an Arizona newspaper which built circulation by tailoring digitally-printed sections for female, young and Spanish-speaking readers.
Digital print offers a range of benefits for newspaper publishers, including the ability to customise content and print editions with run lengths down to one copy. The dynamic imaging process requires no plates or changeover time between jobs.
But it differs from offset printing through lower productivity (based on web speeds of 3.3 metres per second) and higher costs per copy ... a topic on which Frisch was unwilling to be drawn to detail. “There are so many aspects which will affect cost, but we can analyse each individual case and come back with precise figures,” she says.
The early technical focus also provided for three company representatives to discuss processless and chemistry-free printing plates, but only two – from Goss and manroland – to address press developments.
Earlier Bob Lockley, Fairfax Media’s Australian chief executive for web printing, provided an update on press upgrade projects in hand or recently completed.
These included Fairfax’s new Goss Uniliner lines in Ormiston and Christchurch (and an extension In Wellington), News Limited’s new presses in Hobart (KBA Comet operational next May) and Townsville (manroland Geoman, July 2010), and upgrades in Adelaide, as well as those by regional publishers in Australia and New Zealand. APN had completed its programme of new Manugraph installations and would upgrade the Goss Community line at its Mackay centre.
“Australia is in really good shape now, presswise, but we’ve got to work on New Zealand next,” Lockley says.
With experience of polybagging at Canberra and North Richmond, the Fairfax print chief says he found Ferag’s 30,000 cph Polystream system, “one of the most interesting things at DRUPA”. And he was “really keen” to see how digital printing progresses.
Two of the three plate experts – Agfa’s Koni Neuhofer and Warren Hinder from Fujifilm – had similar messages about the adoption of violet chemistry-free plates by newspapers. Prewash, development and rinse stages were eliminated and replaced by a gumming stage possible by modifying existing processors or installing new smaller ones.
Agfa’s N92VCF and Fujifilm’s Pro-V violet plates had specifications and sensitivity which matched that of their polymer stablemates. Hinder focussed on the cost of water, chemical and chemical disposal, and the environmental and ‘perception’ benefits of switching. Neuhofer says the Agfa product currently under test in Europe is suitable for “a good many of today’s newspapers”, and Hinder says his company’s soon-to-be released ‘drop-in’ system is “well worth trying”. Agfa is looking for test sites in the region.
Both think it unlikely that process-free plates suitable for newspaper production will be available for some years.
A contrasting view came from Gary Hardman from Kodak, which offers thermal CTP systems although it supplies both thermal and violet plates. Non-process thermal plates (which ‘develop’ on press) were being supplied to small suburban publishers in the USA, but were not yet fast enough for use by metropolitan publishers.
Is production to blame for newspapers losing touch with their audience? Certainly, MAN Ferrostaal Australia managing director Markus Haefeli admits there’s a problem, just as he admits to being out of touch with his daughter, a body-pierced 17-year-old who says newspapers aren’t funny.
And then there’s Rupert Murdoch, perhaps his biggest customer, who told the American Society of Newspaper Editors of his confidence in improving connections with both online and print users ... and of hopes from an order for 19 large manroland Colorman presslines.
Other publishers were also using print innovation to attract attention and Haefeli had examples among the manroland customer base: Germany’s ‘Süddeutsche Zeitung’ had used transparent paper to simulate movement in a BMW car ad, as well as neon and scented inks. Others had made use of creative folds and marketing ideas such as the new ‘Mon Quotidien’ edition for eight to ten year-olds, and titles based on consumer-generated content. Variable data printing (using inkjet heads) provided added value and new compact formats were making newspapers more reader-friendly.
On cost structures, an estimated 44 per cent went on personnel costs, where productivity aids such as automated transport (for which the company has a pilot system) and plate loading, as well as closed loop controls could save time and materials, while improving quality.
Pursuing the theme of production flexibility and reader engagement, Goss regional sales vice president Peter Kirwan had examples of innovative press configurations designed to enhance product quality and boost efficiency.
These included a twinned pair of single-width Universal 75 presses with dryers to produce up to 128 quarterfold pages, a purpose-designed combination of one-around and two-around Uniliner double-width units for ‘Sing Tao’ in Hong Kong, and another Uniliner with both single-width and double-width folders.
Installations at Unipress in Portugal, ‘Union de Reims’ in France, and the identical presses for Fairfax Media sites in Ormiston (Queensland) and Christchurch (New Zealand) share the right-angle unit configuration Goss has dubbed ‘T90’. This and automation features greatly increase the flexibility to vary web-widths on double-width presses.
Other ideas he says are gaining popularity are an air-bustle device for double-width presses, pre-inking systems to reduce start-up waste and a novel UPS application for countries with unreliable electricity supplies, which averts web-breaks when power is interrupted.
Perhaps, of course, publishers should get out of printing altogether to concentrate on their core business? Visiting the conference from Ifra’s headquarters in Germany, research manager Roland Thees canvassed the option of outsourcing after discussing ways in which publishing and printing can be separated in an organisation. These include outsourcing and joint ventures as well as more conventional ‘cost centre’ and ‘profit centre’ structures.
Requirements for flexibility will rise, he says, with advertiser demands and the need for customisation.
Citing the decision of the ‘San Francisco Chronicle’ to outsource its production to a new plant built for them by Canadian contract printer Transcontinental, he pronounced outsourcing as “typically the most successful”.
Data communications make remote printing possible, and there can be industrial relations advantages from using a contractor. But given that not every situation resembles the SF scenario – which includes 40-year-old flexo presses and an absence of offset experience – the topic remains open for discussion. As Thees says, “It seems the time is ripe to start afresh ... but unfortunately there is no single answer.”
Real life newspapers have “a lot going for them” but achieving the same experience on a website can be like viewing the paper through a cardboard tube.
Shane Morris, a ‘user experience evangelist’ for Microsoft’s developer and platform evangelism, squints at broadsheet sections through a toilet roll to make his point ... and then introduces a raft of technologies which might improve the situation.
These include DeepZoom, which enables a user to zoom ‘infinitely’ into additional content, or expand to occupy more space on a web page, delivering “as many column inches as you like”.
In examples prepared with Fairfax, he showed how high-resolution detail could be accessed and additional information – such as vehicle specifications – made available.
“It leads to a much stickier experience. Users hang around longer,” he says, adding with evangelistic fervour, “It’s an awesome way to keep people on your site by revealing content.”
Other technologies showcased include the cross-platform Silverlight, Windows Live Messenger and Photosynth, a new technique for stitching pictures together to create engaging three-dimensional (and time-lapsed) presentations. It’s quick ... and to make the point, he invited delegates to snap his picture on their mobile phones and send the results for inclusion in that afternoon’s presentation.
A further technology is Windows Presentation Foundation, a desktop application integrated into Windows which allows comprehensive animated searches. With the proprietary New York Times Reader, it allows users to pull down content when online for offline browsing.
The system also allows content including advertisements to reflow to fit available space, something Morris says, “can’t be done on the web at the moment”.
Space and time. Both were needed in the conference’s busy third day with streams covering technical, editorial, and sales and marketing running simultaneously ... plus a couple of plenaries and an inspirational ‘wrap’ for good measure.
I skipped across to sales and marketing to catch Australian media economist Peter Cox in the midst of a tart assessment of the local marketplace. He holds up copies of the ‘Australian’ while pointing to two-and-a half pages of advertising in a 36-page section, and then a slightly-scruffy Fairfax supplement he thought might be “bleeding to death (but at least it’s free)” ... and turned to the ‘Australian Financial Review’ – with its “absolutely impossible” website and desire to charge a subscription for information which could be gained free elsewhere – as probably “the most f-----d-up paper ever”.
And the idea of visiting speakers bringing lessons from the USA was sharply dismissed: “Americans coming and telling us what we should do – that’s a complete waste of time,” he says.
Instead, he presented a mass of research information showing that advertising had grown, even though newspaper and magazine circulations had been flat or falling. And that regardless of other factors, expenditure on print advertising was always closely related to the economy.
Cox also questioned the wisdom of TV channel Nine’s financial model which, he says, calls for interest payments of $39 million a month ... and thoughts by its parent to establish a $200 million magazine printing plant: “Please, that’ll really bankrupt the organisation!”
While Cox believes that the future of publishing must lie with IP television – even though free-to-air operators already have more channels than they are using – he sees scope for newspapers, whose segmentation “can kill magazines. If you own the content, that’s a great strength,” he says.
Of course, some of the marketing ideas were technology-based as well, as in the case of a session dedicated to new ideas.
Among these is Goss’s RSVP system, which provides a response number and two-dimensional code which readers can use to follow-up offers or participate in polls and competitions.
Toby Clarke of the press-maker’s Durham, New Hampshire, office discussed the needs of publishers and editors and the RSVP system’s ability to offer text coupons and discounts, obtain editorial feedback, undertake polls and trivia quizzes, or issue additional information including web URLs, phone numbers and directions.
“The possibilities are endless,” Clarke says, “and readers remain in charge of who replies to their mobile.”
Reseller accounts for publishers could be ‘white labelled’ with the newspaper brand or that of an advertiser, and a redemption process controls the use of coupons and offers. Clarke says the system is ready for implementation in Australia, although the company has yet to take the necessary short code and establish server facilities.
Marketing delegates were also keen on a system which tracks eyeball movement to identify which parts of a page attract reader attention. Richard Lindley of Realview Technologies introduced the Tobii system which was being shown on the company’s stand by James Breeze of partner Objective.
The system – which teams software with specific hardware – tracks eyeballs and aggregates information into a heat map. “Currently it’s a controlled environment, but we’re working towards combining this with a kiosk to offer facilities to the public while gathering data about what they read,” he says.
Realview – which provides an e-newspaper service for publishers – also has geomapping facilities to chart where web responses are coming from and present them in a rain-map format.
Back in the technical sessions, the pace was more relaxed. Ian Johns, offset inks director at DIC Australia, had provided an update on the PrintCity alliance’s VAPoN project (for value-added printing of newspapers) and Allan Wetherell, who manages NSW TAFE programmes for printers, was well into ways of regenerating the industry through training.
With problems attracting new apprentices to printing, Wetherell focussed on opportunities for ‘gap training’, formalising the prior knowledge of non-craft workers and adding to it to provide a qualification for which financial incentives were available.
And following him, views of the DRUPA trade show from Rural Press’s Michael Gee, and Martin Byng, a top newspaper apprentice from APN’s Yandina plant who had travelled to DRUPA (and a six-week tour of European print sites) as his prize in an LIA-sponsored training competition.
For Gee, manager of Rural Press’s North Richmond print site, there were just three days for his second DRUPA visit: Enough however to catch production efficiencies in press and postpress, including a commercial web completing three job changes in 15 minutes, and a faster polybagging system using rotary sealing heads.
Byng’s observations included not only press automation, UV and digital printing, and postpress systems. He also snapped a coach emblazoned with the inevitable f-word and contemplated the health and safety implications of a glassblower in sandals, smoking and using a gas flame.