Posted by Barry Silverstein on August 27, 2010 02:00 PM
In 1982, USA Today debuted with a radical new idea for a national American newspaper. Published by Gannett, which publishes over 80 other daily newspapers, it immediately stood out in the US press by launching with a blend of shorter stories and splashy color graphics that set the tone for a punchier, more visual modern-day newspaper.
Now, reeling from a downturn in revenue and readership, USA Today is hoping it can survive as a largely digital enterprise.
The newspaper yesterday announced a radical restructuring that organizes its newsroom into "content rings" and focuses less on print and more on content production for digital platforms, such as the Web, the iPad, and mobile phones. The streamlining also, unfortunately, comes with layoffs.
Editor John Hillkirk commented to the Associated Press, "We have to go where the audience is. If people are hitting the iPad like crazy, or the iPhone or other mobile devices, we've got to be there with the content they want, when they want it."
Its business model, along with other traditional newspapers and magazines, has been hit hard by the digital revolution. Its print circulation has dropped from 2.3 million in 2007 to about 1.83 million today. It has also seen a 50% drop in ad pages since 2006. The availability of free news via the Internet is largely to blame.
Newspapers have struggled to find ways to maintain print circulation figures and stay profitable. Only a few, most notably the Wall Street Journal, have been successful in launching paid subscription online versions. For the most part, newspapers have been forced to give away their digital content for free, an economic formula that is unsustainable.
USA Today will be looking at novel ways to generate revenue as it moves into the digital future. It may try to license its brand and pursue new business opportunities, and it is likely to turn its sports content into "a business unto itself," says publisher Dave Hunke.
Specific plans are yet to be revealed, but one thing is certain: In order to survive, USA Today knows it must meet the digital revolution head-on ... before it gets clobbered over the head itself.