Is Big Data the Salvation of the Newspaper Industry?

May 31, 2017
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The newspaper industry has been declining for the past decade. In 2007, Paul Gillan, a former reporter, launched the website Newspaper deathwatch to chronicle the downfall of the world’s oldest form of media. While the newspaper industry hasn’t gone extinct, it clearly faltering.

“My name is Paul Gillin and I love newspapers,” Gillan writes on his About Page. “I’ve spent 25 years in technology journalism, the first 17 of them in print. Since 1999, I’ve worked principally online. That experience has taught me about the tectonic shifts that are taking place in the media world, changes that will ultimately destroy 95% of American major metropolitan newspapers.”

The trend was obviously precipitated by the rise of online media. Even in countries with limited Internet access, different sites are bringing quality news to their readers around the world. Ironically, digital technology may save it from turtle extinction. Many experts predict that big data will benefit the faltering industry.

Will big data save the newspaper industry?

Rich Cooper, the former vice President of research and emerging issues for the US Chamber of Commerce foundation, wrote that big data will create a lot of revenue for the newspaper industry. Cooper points out that the New York Times hired Chris Wiggins, its first chief data scientist in February 2014.

When Wiggins first took the job, he stated that he was a lifetime fan of the publication. He was pleased to join the team at the New York Times and offer his assistance to help them grow their userbase.

The New York Times isn’t the only print publication that is using big data to improve its revenue model. David Soloff, an expert on the publishing industry for AdAge, states that The Financial Times has used big data very effectively for years. Their big data analytics has helped the identify undersold sections of their newspaper and maximize their CPM for different ad units across the publication.

“As another example, The Financial Times, one of our global publisher customers, uses big data analytics to optimize pricing on ads by section, audience, targeting parameters, geography, and time of day. Our friends at the FT sell more inventory because the team knows what they have, where it is and how it should be priced to capture the opportunity at hand. To boot, analytics reveal previously undersold areas of the publication, enabling premium pricing and resulting in found margin falling straight to the bottom line.”

Sean O’Leary, the director of communication for the newspaper Association of America, concurs with his colleagues. He states that big data will play a crucial role in attracting new subscribers.

A team of researchers at the University of Bristol published a study titled “What makes us click? Modeling in predicting the appeal of news articles”. The authors developed a model that allowed publishers to predict the most popular trending topics 70% of the time.

Identifying trending content topics is a crucial part of helping the newspaper industry stay afloat. Understanding the demographics that they are targeting is even more important for several reasons:

  • Creating a more effective outreach strategy to draw new subscribers.
  • Generating more revenue from their advertisers.
  • Finding the best topics for their readers.

The benefits of big data are indisputable. But can they save a struggling industry?

Newspapers Still Face Immense Challenges

While big data is helping print publications maintain a semblance of their relevancy, it is still too early to predict whether they can compete with the growing digital content marketplace. In the end, the newspaper industry will either perish or prosper by market forces.

However, Steven Korn states that big data will at least play a role in keeping it afloat and possibly helping it thrive in the digital era.

“The Internet has been a game changer for the media industry,” Korn told AdWeek. “Big data and analytics drive everything, and helps facilitate decision making processes from purchasing to distribution of the news… The more big data gets involved with media and the news, the better chances the news has to succeed.”

The future is still unwritten for the newspaper industry. Fortunately, with the benefit of big data, it may not be entirely bleak.