Newspapers have a future. It lies in a symbiotic relationship with real estate

by Alistair Helm in


Newspaper reading vintage.jpg

The excellent article “The future of newspapers” written by David Williams on Newsroom got me thinking about exactly that: Is there a future for newspapers here in NZ and globally?

I find it somewhat ironic that I ask this question given I spent many years at Realestate.co.nz confidently professing a belief that newspapers would be dead before the end of the decade, however I have to confess that I have somewhat changed my view over recent years.

I can recall so well the many presentations I made to crowded rooms of real estate agents up and down the country, confidently stating “Newspapers are dying.... people in their 20’s don’t read them, people in their 30’s barely read them; their readership is 40 and older and in time those readers will not be around!” Sure it was hyperbole to support my agenda – digital media is the future for real estate advertising. The data certainly supported my assertion and the declining readership trend over recent years has not been arrested. I even recall quoting the then editor of the Guardian who when unveiling new printing presses back in 2006 stated:

as we installed the new Man Roland presses, we knew they were likely to be the last we ever bought
— Alan Rusbridger

However, newspapers are not dead. They are dying; but at the same time evolving. In my view, their world is polarising. In the glitzy corner there is the world of click bait, of which our daily lives are awash – ever more dramatic headlines fighting for our limited attention spam but sadly racing ever faster to the bottom in terms of quality and ad cost, constantly fearing the competitive threat of Facebook. Sadly, so many of NZ’s metro newspapers have chosen this route.

In the opposing corner are the newspapers that still take the time to report and investigate rather than just regurgitate. Those I would place on a pedestal would include The Guardian, The New York Times, The Washington Post – major newspapers with significant backing. I am a big fan of the approach advocated by Gavin Ellis of the Trust structure. Whilst NZ doesn’t have the global scale opportunities to leverage as these major mastheads do, all is not lost. I am more confident that we can expect to continue to see local and regional (and potentially national newspapers) decades from now.

Newspapers have for the past 150 years relied on advertising, it's a symbiotic relationship at the core of their business model. One of the major groups of advertisers newspapers rely upon is the real estate industry. Pre-internet real estate agents relied on newspapers 100% - providing the right medium to the right audience at a cost-effective rate. Buyers valued it as a catalogue of what was on the market and equally sellers liked it as they felt it perfectly promoted their property. Property advertising in print is logical - strong images with clear attributes look great.

However the world has changed over the past decade or two and today newspapers are no longer the medium to showcase all properties on the market, certainly not for large national or regional papers. This is where I come to my point.

Local newspaper serving local communities can and do leverage local real estate advertising as much because properties advertised ‘feels’ right at home for the very reason that the content is hyperlocal. Sandwiched in with the local school events and sporting club news and all the other hyperlocal going’s on in communities real estate is complementary, comfortable, personal and local. Where I live in Devonport we are blessed by a great fortnightly publication the Flagstaff, it is the very epitome of this. If you want to know what is on the market in Devonport, it’s actually easier to flick through the latest edition of the Flagstaff than even to search on Trade Me or Realestate.co.nz. The same I am sure is as true and relevant for the Raglan Chronicle as for the Ruapehu Bulletin or the Te Awamutu Courier. There are 48 free local newspapers across the country which find a symbiotic relationship with local real estate companies, clients and agents.

As for the national or regional papers; in my view their approach has to be different, they can’t be the hyper local newspaper but on a larger scale. As clearly in the case of Auckland with the NZ Herald they can’t possibly offer to profile 9,000+ properties for sale across Auckland. What it can do though is deliver what is such a key part of real estate marketing – the serendipitous moment.

Advertising a property for sale is about reaching out to as many buyers in the market. These are the people who are deeply engaged on Trade Me and Realestate.co.nz. Buyers who set up email alerts and notifications and addictively check their mobile property apps. But not all actual buyers are so deeply engaged at the time, many don’t actually think of themselves as buyers; sure they certainly don’t represent the majority of people who buy property, but they could be buyers if as serendipity happens, they see a property that gets their heart racing, something that kick-starts them into action. This serendipitous moment doesn’t happen online. It happens in more traditional media of newspaper adverts, catching the eye of the reader as they disassemble the numerous Saturday supplements.

I put these thoughts forward as over the past year I have experienced first-hand the value of such real estate marketing – both hyperlocal newspapers and the serendipitous advertising in major metro papers, with significant success.

So, the truth is I have changed my tune over the years. Real estate marketing is about a broad marketing campaign, not simply online which is undoubtedly a critical base, but the complementary use of print media in newspapers as well.

It is just too important a process in the marketing a property not to consider the dual media, and for that reason we in the real estate industry need newspapers, so let’s hope they can survive and prosper.