Nobody Knows Anything?

Adventures in News & Media

Have you heard about the launch of British newspaper The New Day? In the face of declining newspaper audiences, it’s rare to see a new title — but even rarer to see a media property without a website. That’s right, The New Day is a “paper-only” newspaper, although it does plan to have a presence on social media. Talk about a bold and counterintuitive move in the age of Buzzfeed, Mic and The New York Times paywall.

It reminded me of William Goldman’s quote “Nobody knows anything” from his book Adventures in the Screen Trade, about Hollywood execs who have no idea how a movie will perform before its release. In a broader context, the phrase applies to predictions about what might or might not work when it comes to media, technology and the distribution of content.

New Day is owned by Trinity Mirror Group, Britain’s largest newspaper publisher with some 240 titles, so it has strong backing. It eventually plans to sell 200,000 copies a day, and be largely funded from its cover price of 50p ($0.70). Trinity clearly looked at the crowded UK newspaper market (there are hundreds of titles) and thought what’s missing is an “optimistic” non-digital news source, with no political bias, aimed at people 35–55.

Who knows if Trinity will be successful? Experiments with distribution platforms are a feature of the media business. In 2011, with much fanfare, News Corp launched The Daily, the world’s first iPad-only newspaper. It closed in 2012 after it failed to make money, although it did achieve 100,000 subscribers at its peak. So now we’ve come full-cycle and are back to the paper-only New Day.

Sometimes going against conventional wisdom is the right thing to do when staking a place in the crowded content universe. Tyler Brule’s Monocle is a great example of this. You won’t find an iPad edition of the magazine, devoted as he is to physical paper and ink and beautiful production values. Occasionally quaint (there’s a cover story on penmanship this month!), Monocle is a successful publication that stands out through being committed to the print medium.

So what will be next? We’re probably due for something at the extreme opposite of print-only, so how about the world’s first VR newspaper? Perhaps “The Virtual Daily”, created entirely by a staff of AI robots, will be delivered to your VR headset and feature immersive stories that take you through the day’s happenings. If recent history is any guide, something like this can’t be far way. The intersection of media and technology produces constant innovation in distribution and content. The only way for anybody to know anything is to put it out there, and see what happens.