A different online strategy: Lag behind deliberately

The Independent on Sunday today contains an article that seeks to justify its editor-in-chief’s famous scepticism about new media.

Looking at the Telegraph’s multimedia newsroom, Tim Luckhurst says it’s working well, but wonders whether the Telegraph’s readership really cares. Despite its Hitwise claims, the Telegraph lags behind the Times and Guardian in online readership among the quality newspapers. Moreover, he notes, nobody seems to commenting on the Telegraph blogs. And the bloggers themselves don’t seem to be very enthusiastic, having failed, in some cases, to post for weeks on end.

Then come the quotes from various unnamed sources, including a “leading web site editor” and a Telegraph correspondent, who appear to share the Indy scepticism about newspapers blogging, podcasting and video.

And then, in the final paragraph, comes the Independent view:

It is already clear that Telegraph readers appreciate web coverage that emulates the content of a traditional newspaper. That is excellent news for newspapers in general, but it does not prove that rushing to embrace each new item of technology makes editorial or commercial sense. Waiting and watching has often been the astute response to revolutionary technology. Those who pioneer multimedia may not be the ones to do it best.

Judging by various interviews with editor-in-chief Simon Kelner and chief executive Ivan Fallon over the past few years, this seems to reflect the Indy’s position. Fallon has predicted problems for the Telegraph’s integration efforts. The Independent’s strategy seems to be that it will deliberately lag behind the other quality papers online, leave innovation to others, and then pick and chose which new media approaches to emulate. In his interview with the Guardian, Kelner said:

We’re happy not being pioneers, because it means we won’t get shot in the back. Our approach has been – and will be for the near future – that we’ll go about things more steadily, we’re not going to rush headlong into massive investment.

The Indy, of course, sees its online foot-dragging as a hard-headed businesses decision. Newspapers-printed-on-newsprint, they like to stress, are still booming globally (a valid point for a newspaper group with major interests in growing economies like South Africa and India), and they have sat backed and watched as their traditional rivals have invested millions into their web sites. The Times this year spent £10m on a web relaunch, and the Guardian will spend another £15m on its site over the next 18 months. Kelner, by contrast, can boast that his more humble web site is at least profitable — and increasing the revenue it generates significantly.

But if the Independent’s short-lived experiment with blogging is anything to go by, there is, of course no guarantee that this approach will be successful. The innovators will be way ahead, having learned what doesn’t work as well as what does. Those who follow the pioneers will have to reinvent the wheel every time.

Perhaps it’s most telling that the corner of Independent News & Media’s UK empire that makes all the money — the Belfast Telegraph — is not as reluctant about multimedia integration as the flagship in London.

12 thoughts on “A different online strategy: Lag behind deliberately

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  5. Martin, there is a strategy and then there is the appearance of a strategy. That is to say most often digital immigrants confuse tools with behaviours. The question isn’t whether newspapers should blog but what makes blogging compelling. I’ve heard that a major UK newspaper’s stategy when it comes to blogging is ‘to attract a younger demographic’. That’s not strategic thinking, and it will fail.

    Everyone is chasing video because of YouTube without really understanding why YouTube is compelling. It’s not because it’s video, I can tell you that. Now, newspapers also seem to like video because advertisers like video. Well, that makes some economic sense. Are advertisers digging video because of YouTube? I don’t know. But neither the advertisers nor newspapers will succeed if they think that YouTube’s popularity is about video (or about piracy).

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