Ian Cohen, CIO at Associated Newspapers, is the antithesis of the newspapers his employers publish. Whereas critics note the Daily Mail for its defeatist stand, Cohen is upbeat and cheerful, despite it being just hours after his beloved Chelsea crashed out of the Champions League to Manchester United.
Its two years since Cohen and CIO sat down together and it's been a busy period for the north Londoner. Although newspaper sales are sliding, albeit more slowly than rivals to Associated, the group remains in rude health. Its technology strategy has been central to the sustainability of the business in what is a difficult period for national and local newspaper publishers. But the challenge is ongoing and Cohen is keen to explain the processes the London-based company has been through and is currently pursuing.
In its recent half-year results, the company reported a five per cent increase in revenues and profits, a piece of positive news that has not often been heard in the newspaper world of late. The Associated Newspapers publishing business contributed to the health of the company, even though its flagship title, the Daily Mail, did see a slight drop in sales. Since the internet became a mainstream information resource on every desktop PC, newspaper companies have struggled to maintain healthy business models as sales and readerships slipped away.Associated Newspapers has not only met the internet challenge head on, but has to be congratulated for injecting new life into the printed newspaper business model. The free local newspapers in London, namely the Metro and London Lite, and now most British cities may not be loved, but the fact is Associated thought beyond the obvious and recreated an existing product by being bold with the distribution of news, simply by making it free, just as the internet has.
Although Cohen comes from the financial sector, the media has become part of his life after leaving the Financial Times before coming to Associated. As a result, Cohen is a passionate communicator about the newspaper business, both about its products and how technology is reshaping it for the better.
"Newspapers are relevant. I do not subscribe to the view of them as dead. Yes it's changing, but coming from financial services, I see how the banks have been through the multi-channel world. People are now consuming the media in lots of channels," he says of the way a newspaper must print, be online and even broadcast the information it has. "The challenge is to engage with the reader in the channel that they want to engage with."
Technology is driving this multi-channel change, not only because companies like Associated have to publish a story in their newspaper and onto their various online platforms, but also the way the story arrives infront of readers. "There is a level of interactivity which means that part of the message can get a life of its own," he says referring to social media and its ability to parse a part of a story and share with a community beyond the control of his company. "But this doesn't mean people will stop reading."
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