For many, Pedro J Ramírez needs no introduction. But for those unfamiliar with his long and high-profile association with the world of media; he became the youngest editor of a national paper in Spain aged just 28, and, under a decade later in 1989, established El Mundo, which grew to become the second most widely-read publication in the country.
El Mundo is credited as being one of the last successful print-tradition publications in the world to become a notable player within the matrix of world media, prior to the advent of the electronic publication of news via the internet. In this respect, El Mundo has faced the most severe battle of all traditional news outlets with both the old world and the new, in regards to the way in which its news is distributed, with commercial success, to its readership.
On the night of the event in a bustling LSE lecture theatre, Mr.Ramírez was in good company on stage, which was being chaired by the chief editor of The Times, James Harding and introduced by Adam Austerfield from LSE Enterprise.
After exchanging some fond anecdotes about each other, Mr. Ramírez took to the podium. He told the audience of his pleasant surprise of seeing Sir. Tim Bernes-Lee, the creator of the World Wide Web, being honoured at the London 2012 Opening Ceremony. They had met each other before, he said, at the 20th anniversary celebration of both the founding of El Mundo and the Internet, which occurred in the same year. But Mr. Ramírez’s tone was serious, as well as jovial.
The internet, he went on to demonstrate, marked a dramatic shift in the viability of the business model for printed press – a shift that up until recently has had a cumulatively negative commercial effect on traditional news providers.
The statistics of sharp and continually falling printed-paper sales, versus a meagre, and also decreasing, offsetting in online advertising revenues, made for rather pessimistic reading. According to one report, for every $10 being lost in printed-paper sales, only $1 was being made back from advertising from their otherwise free-to-browse websites. Indeed, it was when it was discovered that despite having more than 24 million unique visitors per month to the El Mundo website in 2009, over 50% of the content provided was accessed by only 3% of these visitors.
Mr. Ramírez once recalled how the late Steve Jobs scolded traditional news providers for lamenting the detrimental effect of the digital world, saying that (in paraphrase) “for five years, you have given the content of your news on the web, without collecting anyone’s credit card details”. This sentiment is what has helped fuel Mr. Ramírez’ new optimism. What he was waiting for, he said, was the right platform.
This came in 2010 with the launch of the iPad, and other tablet technology which followed. Electronic versions of broadsheets had up until this point suffered a lack of transferability to the tactile experience of holding a paper in your hands. With tablet technology, not only could the printed-paper experience be replicated, it could also be made interactive with embedded multimedia. To produce sustainable revenues from this new phenomenun required the creation of content which was exclusive enough, and of high enough quality, that the aforementioned 3% of loyal web readers would be willing to pay for the privilege of reading it. With this, Mr. Ramírez revealed El Mundo’s initiative to tap into this new market, an exclusive current affairs outlet only accessible to subscription customers, named ORBYT.
This product benefitted from not suffering from the vast traditional production and transportation costs of physically getting printed-papers to newspaper stalls around the world, and for the firs time could thus actually be marketed for a lesser price to its readers abroad. Fundamentally however, it also had the potential to eventually positively offset the losses being made in declining newspaper and online advertising revenues, whilst continuing to provide a free-to-browse website outside of ORBYT. Again, Mr. Ramírez looked back to Sir. Bernes-Lee, and recalled the famous phrase from that night in the London Olympic Stadium; “This is for everyone”, adding only that perhaps it should have read “This is for everyone… who is ready to pay a fair price for it”.
The talk prompted impassioned questions from the audience, from a journalist from rival paper El Razón, to a civil servant working in the field of media. An exceptional drinks reception followed, attended by famous designer and wife to Mr. Ramírez, Ágatha Ruiz de la Prada, as well as other VIPs from participant companies and institutions.
We thank Mr. Ramírez, Mr. Harding, and LSE Enterprise for working with the Spanish Chamber of Commerce to make this evening possible, and we hope all of our attendees had a great time.