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Papers Aren't Going Anywhere

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I began reading newspapers when I was 9-years-old in Bombay, India. The one newspaper I read, The Times of India, was India's largest newspaper in English and one of a half-dozen available in that language.
 
Forty years later, Bombay is now Mumbai. I live in the U.S. The Iron Curtain has fallen. China has risen. There are billions of phones and digitization is pervasive. The Times of India is the largest English circulation paper in the world.
 
And I still read newspapers. In fact, I spend more time with the product of the newspaper industry today than I ever have. 
 
In addition to the printed form, which I love for its feel and the adventure of discovering news I would not seek, I now interact with articles by not just reading them but discovering them as I need them, passing them along vs. cutting them out, commenting on them, and pointing and posting them using a gamut of technologies from phones to laptop computers to tablets and a host of brand names from Google to Facebook to Twitter.
 
I believe most people who claim to never read newspapers spend more time with them than they know. As I see what folks post on Facebook and the links in my Twitter feeds, I see a huge amount of news articles. Clearly, folks are interacting with the product.
 
There is a high likelihood that the legacy packaging of the news industry, the newspaper, will become less relevant to most folks; I also predict that the industry's product and services will become more relevant.
 
In the future, local content will matter more than ever due to mobility. Newspapers have local expertise and trust.
 
In the future, community will matter more as social media, sustainability and what is likely to be a less mobile population due to aging and real estate prices make neighborhood and civic affairs grow in importance. Newspapers are pillars of community.
 
In the future, reaggregating and scaling audiences will continue to matter as all media fragments. By combining offline and online assets, and partnering with other local partners and technology companies, newspapers can provide the scale retailers and other marketers need to move product.
 
Clearly, there are significant challenges. These include solving how to
monetize the product and services when a historical monopoly on news dissemination has been eroded and when it is the surfacing of the relevant article rather than the entire newspaper that is valued.
 
But let us not underestimate an industry that has seen the coming of radio, television and computing, and that feeds a powerful human need to be informed and connect, to reinvent and adapt.
 
Having spent some time with senior and junior personnel across the newspaper industry, I know they know the perils they face. Many are making the difficult decisions and changes necessary to thrive. These changes are taking places in the following areas:
 
1. Culture: The newspaper industry needs to be reinvigorated. The people who created the cash cow of the paper package need help to create challenger products that will supplement and even cannibalize the newspaper. In many papers a cultural and organizational soap opera is occurring. I bet on the next generation to win since nothing trumps survival.

2. Technology: Organizations need to elevate the role of technology and
technology partnerships to board-level status. The future will be about how to use technology to curate, combine and aid discovery of articles to relevant audiences at scale. This will require world-class technology smarts.

3. Partnering: In addition to technology partnerships, newspapers need to find ways to continue to embrace other voices into their bundle of products and services. These include the blogging community, the Yelps of the world and all the people outside the industry who are trying to reinvent the industry. We are living in a world of links and connections and, oddly, to be more competitive thinking synergistically is better than thinking competitively

4. Focus: Each news organization has to decide what it makes, what it shares and what it borrows. Vertical integration may be fine for Apple, but doing all things is a no go for most other firms. Each newspaper needs to determine what it's best at or what, with investment, it could be best at. Share and borrow the rest.

In a world where people are inundated with information as they try to make decisions, where local and community and mobile are growing, and where trusted brands and roots matter, the newspaper brands have a bright future if they follow this vision: To lead and partner in facilitating and reaggregating community information, history and voices for civic, commercial and retail purposes.

Rishad Tobaccowala is chief strategy and innovation officer at VivaKi. He can be reached at rishad.tobaccowala@vivaki.com.