Former Dow Jones CEO Lewis on the future of news
Former Dow Jones chief executive Will Lewis talks about what he believes are the essentials for news business models going forward.
Lewis describes advertising-based models as “gone”, and warns against “subscription fatigue” although he said these will remain an important revenue stream. He further adds that the industry needs to move from fixed to low variable cost bases and “go back to basics and put the reader, the viewers and the listeners’ needs at the heart of the model and build from there”.
Speaking on FT’s Future of News online conference, he said:
“We seem to be the one industry left where it seems acceptable to serve up the content in the same way to the same people regardless of what people actually want.”
“I do still think there is a producer interest mentality in the industry which is how do we justify what we have here and make it work for a bit longer and that’s why it’s been such a difficult period of time.
“Any new model, and it is going to require a new model or new models to attract new capital because no one’s going to put new capital into the industry with the existing models unless they’re slightly bonkers… at its heart has to have a consistent flow of high-quality impactful journalism that tells you really what’s going on in business, politics, culture and doesn’t just regurgitate Government and company press releases. That’s number one.
“That’s hard, it takes resource, but that is absolutely critical.”
He further said that despite the shift to subscriptions, most people may not or cannot pay subscription fees for a product in which they are only interested in a small part.
“You’re going to have to dis-aggregate the products.
“In a world where I have to take out a subscription to get a razor to shave I suspect subscription fatigue is going to set in and you will not be able to pin all your hopes on that.”
When talking about forming direct relationships with readers, he said publishers have to be willing to reach them whatever platforms they are on with whatever type of content they want:
“If you think that doubling down on project development and engagement is the right route I would question that because for all of the hours you will spend agonising over what goes where on your homepage and a few bells and whistles on your app, in my mind these are largely wasted in terms of a growth strategy.
“It may prop up and make your 65-year-old subscriber less likely to cancel but all the while that you are committing resource and focus to a homepage makeover you’re allowing state publishers, commercially corrupted bloggers, amateur journalists to steal a march on you reaching a bigger younger audience which is hanging out on social media.
“So if your editor declares 2021 is the year of the homepage makeover, get yourself a new editor I would say.”