Business Interview: OCLife's Bob Holland
Note: This interview with Bob Holland was conducted before Thursday’s announcement of a merger between Fairfax Media and the Nine Network. How such a merger may impact on regional centres like Orange will no doubt be a big discussion point in the weeks ahead.
Bob Holland, publisher of Orange City Life and Orange City News, has been in the print game for nearly 30 years and is never short of an opinion when it comes to advertising and the newspaper game. Given there is so much talk about the uncertain future of newspapers and print publications around the world I decided to sit down with Bob and ask him his thoughts on the future of the industry.
So, with so much news content being consumed online, do you think print news still has a role to play today?
I think there is still a whole lot of people who love to hold a newspaper in their hand and love to read a newspaper. I don't think there is any doubt that people still love their local newspaper.
But all around Australia and the world you see newspapers with declining readership and sales?
My personal feeling is that, if there is a problem, it's all to do with the fact that people are still expected to pay for a newspaper and indeed for a lot of magazines. I think that's basically caused the whole problem, because news is so easily accessible for free, people are losing interest in actually paying to buy a newspaper. Buying a newspaper every day is essentially a $15 a week commitment, one that most people feel they don't have to make when so much news is available online on various platforms for free. The day that they find a way to provide them for free is the day they will re-emerge and get back towards their glory days.
What makes you so confident that removing the cover price from a newspaper would increase readership?
In the places like Orange, the local newspaper’s circulation has dropped at a rate of around 6% a year over recent years and although that might sound terrible on paper, the readership or interest in reading it by the public would be nowhere near that. Reason I say that, is that a copy of the local paper sits down at the local coffee shop or in a business waiting room, and there is every chance that up to 50, 100 or more people will browse through that paper while they are there. So, they may only have sold one copy, but hundreds more people could have looked at it, it just means those people didn't want to pay the money to buy it, but they are certainly interested in it and they certainly read it.
Orange City Life was free from day one, our model was to fund it from advertising and that is what we've always done, and we've done that successfully. Our circulation hasn't changed in years. There may be a drop off in newspaper sales, but there is certainly not a drop off in the pickup rate for Orange City Life and for magazines of our type right across the country. So that, to me, says people still want them, but I think, in all honesty, if we put a cover price on our magazine you would have a very different story.
It is easy to understand the appeal that targeted online advertising offers to customers, can print advertising compete with that along with other media like radio and television?
“I think the value of newspaper and magazine advertising generally
is probably undersold today.”
My honest opinion is that newspaper advertising is potentially one of the best opportunities of all the media at the moment. That sounds like a pretty bold claim, but today if you buy a television advertisement you are competing with as many as 50 channels and there's Foxtel, 24-hour-a-day TV. It’s hard to know who actually sees a 30 second television ad, and it's anybody's guess what the size of the audience would be, and the same goes for radio. Radio and TV ads are basically on and gone within 30 seconds. It is a real game of chance, whereas with a local magazine like Orange City Life, people sit down and read it and you've got basically a captive audience, and advertising is all about reaching an audience.
Orange City Life has a circulation of over 13,000 every week in a town that has about 15,000 homes — that's incredible penetration. I doubt any television or radio station or even Facebook would capture that percentage of the total market.
And, if you think it through, television ads are on for about 30 seconds, which gives you a chance to say about 70 words, the same with radio, so in 30 seconds it's come and gone. In a newspaper ad you can put in more information and have more impact, I think the value of newspaper and magazine advertising generally is probably undersold today.
People may be reading a magazine or newspaper, but do you have evidence that it actually translates into sales for an advertiser?
Yes, because we hear that all the time. The right ad, in the right publication, reaching the right people, will always get the right results. And I think the fact that a huge number of business people choose to advertise in Orange City Life and have done for years and years and years says it must be doing something.
So you genuinely believe there is a future for print publications in Australia?
I have no knowledge on metropolitan papers, but country people love anything of theirs that local. I think that's one of the reasons Orange City Life is so popular, we are still local people with a local paper providing local news, albeit more community news.
You said newspapers have a future, but haven’t you actually ventured online now yourself with the launch of Orange City News?
Orange City Life is not a newspaper, but it is what I call a community newsletter, a high quality one. We are not actually trying to be newspaper, but at the same time we are trying to bring our community together, share what's happening, share what's good about our community, share achievements, share events, share news about people and things like that. There are other platforms for newsy-type things and our online news site is working towards addressing that.
I think the Orange City Life model is something that many cities could follow. I think a Tamworth City Life or Wagga City Life or Maitland City Life are all possibilities sometime in the future: A community newsletter in the fashion of what we are doing and then news will all be covered by radio, TV and online news services. I think we've got the ‘regional centre’ model fairly right, we still have some work to do, but I think the idea of a community newspaper like Orange City Life and a community news service like Orange City News is the right mix that will take us into the future.