It’s Not Over: What Today’s Media Companies Can Learn From Print Journalism

It’s Not Over: What Today’s Media Companies Can Learn From Print Journalism

As traditional media companies like Disney and Sony struggle to adapt to the digital age, print publications that have proven unexpectedly resilient can illuminate the path forward.

We’re never going to make the same amount of money again. Streaming is not the answer to cord cutting. There’s little chance for economies of scale when there are so many microtribes and global content. Disney. Netflix. Paramount. Warner Bros. Discovery. If you’re in the Media & Entertainment space today, you’re familiar with this dominant narrative. The Street has lost confidence. The future looks bleak.

This isn’t the first time we’ve practically written off every business in a whole industry. Remember when we thought journalism was dead? Well, a lot of publications did indeed die off. But not all of them. Today, there are a few publications that took a future-focused approach in the face of disruption, finding their way to back to growth and, in some cases, becoming even stronger businesses than they were before. By experimenting with their business model, testing out new platforms, and connecting deeply with their audiences’ needs, today’s media companies can also chart a path to a renewed and flourishing business.

The New York Times is one of the most renowned newspapers in the world. In 2022, the company generated $2.3 billion in revenue and $174M in net income. But it wasn’t a straight road to success. Navigating massive headwinds and experimenting with a digital platform, The New York Times saw its revenue decrease consistently from $2B in 2010 to a low of $1.6B in 2016. But then things started to turn around as they figured out what worked. Not only did revenue start to grow and beat previous records, but their profit margin also grew. The company has managed to become a stronger and even more profitable business by diversifying its revenue streams, expanding its digital subscription base, and investing in high-quality video and podcast content.

Similarly, The Economist managed to remain profitable by expanding its digital subscription base and leveraging its reputation for high-quality analysis and commentary. Since 2010, when the company generated 320M pounds in revenue, they have been trying to make their way back to growth. By 2022, they were back up in terms of revenue, ending the year with 346M pounds. Most importantly, however, net income came in at 46M pounds, a real comeback from 3 years earlier when it had dropped to its low of 32M pounds. They invested in the right things and tightened the ship to focus on the future.

Print media didn’t die. Lousy print media died. The good stuff survived and even thrived.

Print publications succeeded in the digital age by diversifying their revenue streams and investing in high-quality content. These lessons apply to other media companies, such as television networks and movie studios.

In business, as in art, experimentation with new formats and technologies is key. For example, television networks can explore short-form video or interactive content to engage with audiences on digital platforms. Movie studios can also pursue new distribution models and release films directly on streaming services.

Agility with business models also pays dividends. With the decline of traditional advertising, media companies must find new ways to monetize their content. Brand sponsorship deals and targeted digital advertising can help media companies generate revenue while maintaining control over their content.

The success of these print publications should create a greater imperative for other companies to gain a deep understanding of their audiences. Empathetic connection fosters innovation. By understanding the interests and values of their readers, these media companies have innovated in their content delivery and distribution, offered personalized experiences that meet the specific needs of their customers and ultimately earned their loyalty.

The digital age has presented significant challenges for traditional media companies and unprecedented opportunities for those willing to change and experiment. Earlier, successful digital transformations highlight the importance of pursuing a future-focused approach to strategy and of adapting to true audience needs.

By diversifying revenue streams, investing in high-quality content, and adopting new technologies and advertising models, media companies can position themselves for long-term success in the years ahead.

Dev Patnaik


Dev Patnaik is the CEO of Jump Associates, the leading independent strategy and innovation firm. He’s a board member of Conscious Capitalism. Dev has been a trusted advisor to CEOs at some of the world’s most admired companies, including Starbucks, Target, Nike, Universal and Virgin.