Leap of faith for online papers

Tim Satchwell (“Net natives end dominance of UK broadsheets” New Media, MW October 7) develops a coherent analysis but comes to the wrong conclusions when reviewing the performance of UK broadsheets online.

It is certainly true that, although early adopters of the medium, the broadsheets have lagged behind other online content owners in thinking and execution.

The reasons for this are multiple but offline senior managerial inertia and fear, plus an unwillingness to invest long term in skills and infrastructure play a part.

Most online broadsheets remain first generational – confined to faithfully repurposing the content and look and feel of their offline parent.

A smaller number have moved to a second generational stage, restructuring their product offering to online consumption patterns but still inherently locked into a subservient role to their offline cousins.

The broadsheets now need to make the leap to a third generation culture – trading as an equal but different business to their offline equity.

This essentially entails combining the existing peerless content creation skills, albeit re-engineered to take account of the “grab” rather than “grazing” online culture, with new navigational, design, branding and e-commerce delivery mechanisms.

These need to be combined in turn with “hard to replicate” functionality partnerships that provide the broadsheets’ target market with seamless information, opinions and action packages.

It also means the broadsheets delivering real, well thought out cross media opportunities that planner/buyers and advertisers can understand.

In short, online broadsheets should function as standalone businesses as well as a value add to the offline titles.

Tim’s preferred antidote to the current malaise in broadsheet publishing online is for these brands to enter into content partnerships with portals.

This really only addresses the distributive issue of getting audiences to the broadsheets’ online equity and not the more fundamental one of moving to a third generational culture that builds loyalty and keeps those audiences returning to the sites.

It also neglects the potentially parastical effect of lesser known portals building their brand on the back of the broadsheets brand equity.

Paul Simon

Commercial and marketing director

Independent Digital

Canary Wharf

London E14

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