Possible solutions to gaining younger readers.

In a previous post, I spoke on the challenge that print media has gaining younger readers.  This point was well stated in a recent article by Eliza Kern in the May edition of The Independent Publisher.  Eliza states that she is, like myself, a middle-class college educated person, but she’s nearly ten years younger than I am and her position only further proved how quickly the problem is growing as technology expands and gets into the hands of younger and younger people every year.  (My daughter is four and can navigate a smart phone better than I can!)

I enjoyed reading Eliza’s article as she made some good points such that “My generation is building habits around digital content and [how much] we’re exactly willing to pay for it.  We’ve grown up with a wealth of news and video available for free on the internet, and for many of us, we also have access to high-quality content through parents or friends subscriptions to services like Netflix.  We built media habits around this content from an early age, but we were never forced to actually pay for content.  My generation has grown up connected to the internet and we’ve never been at a loss for finding news and information on the web – for free.”

She goes on to point out what most of us in the print media world cross our fingers with, “My age group has always made up a fairly low percentage of newspaper readers anyway.  Presumably the value we place on news will rise when we have kids and own houses and spend a few more years paying taxes.”

Eliza’s main purpose of the article is to maybe make newspapers aware that younger generations have nothing against “your paper”, but it’s simply a matter that we have only ever known immediate and free access to anything we wanted to read or see.  There’s an ethical dilemma on what younger people are willing to pay for.

As I read, I was hoping she wouldn’t just state the problem or rehash the obvious, but actually make a valid suggestion to help paper’s circulation.  I was happy to see she had three good ideas.  She states, “Perhaps [the newspaper] should consider low-cost subscriptions meant for recent graduates - that would get us used to paying something but at rates more in line with our typical income levels.  Maybe it means creating or structuring content specifically for younger readers and their digital tastes or adopting micro-payments that remind us more of purchasing an iTunes song than a year-long subscription.” 

Her last suggestion really stuck with me.  For a 20-something to purchase an annual subscription does seem like a big commitment, and Eliza couldn’t be more right by referencing the purchasing of a song on iTunes.  My generation and younger live in a world of teasers, samples, and bullet-point entertainment.  The vast majority of kids have no interest in sitting down and listening to Dark Side of the Moon in its entirety, they just want to hear the intro to “Money” and move on to the next thing.  If I listen to a 30-second snapshot of a song and like it, I’m tempted to purchase it for $0.99 – especially if I had already put in a gift card.  (That’s the other problem with younger generations; money isn’t a physical thing - which makes it easier to give up, especially in little increments.  But that’s an open door opportunity for anybody trying to sell something, too!)

So maybe the lesson learned is that print media circulation needs to reach us on our level.  Give us tid-bits to get us hooked instead of trying to flood us with pages upon pages of material we don’t care about and are forced to sift through to find what we really want.  And make payments easier by going digital (some of you already offer this).  Nobody that’s 21 years old wants to mail a check downtown to get what they want.  Perhaps offer smaller increment payments as an automatic withdraw on a weekly schedule.

Whatever the solution may be, it’s only going to be realized by meeting younger generations where they are at and not expecting them to grow to our position overnight.

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