Meeting needs of readers is key to success

While I enjoyed Alison Hastings’ review of the two dominant
approaches being taken in the effort to stop sliding circulations
(Press Gazette, 13 May), I can’t help feeling that in wondering “who
turns out to be right”

she unwittingly voiced one of the
strategic flaws that have led so much of the UK newspaper industry into
this situation – the notion that there’s a cure-all “magic formula”
that we need to discover and apply all round.

This notion comes
from a failure to recognise that all providers of products and services
must be customer-focused to succeed in the long term. And to do that
best, they have to ask the customer what he/she wants through detailed
qualitative market research.

The opposite is the product-focused, egocentric drive to come up with something you believe may sell and then try to sell it.

Sadly,
too much of the UK newspaper sector remains productcentred, believing
that editors can somehow magically divine what their readers want
without actually asking them in a structured way. So when the needs of
readers change, surprise surprise, the papers end up out of touch with
what is now required – a process strategy gurus call “strategic drift”.
The lives and needs of people in the UK have changed enormously in the
past 30 years, but, at heart, many newspapers haven’t moved with
them. Hence declining circulations.

Hearteningly, those
papers that have spent time and money on market research trying to
understand what their existing and target readers want seem mostly to
be reaping the rewards of being genuinely reader-focused – essentially
giving them what they asked for. It’s obvious in retrospect.

Was
it a surprise or a fluke that going compact worked for The Independent?
No, because it was addressing a genuine need (for a commuter-friendly
size) that was doubtless identified through structured reader feedback.

But
implementing copycat innovations your readers haven’t asked for is not
the solution to falling circulations. It’s more likely to become a
symptom of the problem – not being reader-focused. Instead we should be
finding what our readerships want and giving it to them.

Alan S. Morrison, MBA (Open), MA (Hons), Dip. Journalism

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