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37 posts from July 2006

Where Do You Get Your News?

This AP report on (thanks Juliana) summarizes a Pew report and indicates the number of people shifting to online resources for news is leveling off. Is that really something for the newspaper industry to celebrate? I’d be less concerned about finding the bottom of the market than I would be focused on how to become relevant again.

What do the statistics say? 31% of adults regularly log in for news. Interestingly, people in their 40’s were more likely to go online for news than those under 40. But as the article goes on to say, “young adults are more likely to not follow the news at all.”

Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center also noted “online editions of newspapers are providing a bit of a life raft for newspapers…but it’s a pretty small life raft.” As I’ve mentioned before about the book publishing industry, nobody is going to get too excited about a direct port of the print product to a website. Sure, it’s a fine way to repurpose the content, pick up some traffic and make a few bucks on ads, but the competition is fierce. My local newspaper options are pretty limited, but if I want to go online for news the options are seemingly endless.

The most significant item in the article is this statement:

Local and community news are the big attraction for newspapers.

Yes, that’s what distinguishes your local paper from USAToday, Google News, etc. The local papers need to not only acknowledge this fact, but also embrace it and make it a core part of their strategy going forward. Community involvement, blogs and other tools need to be part of their online arsenal. It doesn’t all have to be online, btw. There’s room for great editorial coverage of the blogosphere, both local and national, for a print newspaper. This is an excellent opportunity for the editorial staff at your local paper to totally immerse themselves into the local/national blog scene and add value, both in print and online; what used to be the editorial page could grow significantly and become the central focus of what they have to offer.

Yahoo, Google, etc., are threatening your very existence. Take advantage of their weakness (no local “feet on the street”) and couple it with your strength (plenty of “local feet on the street”, in the form of reporters/editorial) and leverage the heck out of it…before they develop enough local community involvement in their own model, further crushing your brand and relevance.

One Newspaper’s View of the Future

Dennis Ryerson, editor of The Indianapolis Star, offered this perspective on the future of newspapers in today’s edition. Btw, as I’ve mentioned before, I love reading the Star every morning…but I worry that a lot of local papers are going to implode if they don’t develop a sense of urgency and get creative with their business model.

Here are a few excerpts from Mr. Ryerson’s column, along with my thoughts on each:

The Star installed a new $72 million printing press four years ago, an indication of our confidence in print.

Yikes. I would think now is the time to focus on your core competencies, not lay claim to the previous or next stage in the production process. If I’m running a newspaper I figure out what our brand stands for and put all my energy into leveraging that brand with new and exciting business models, not investing in a printing press. Granted, this investment occurred four years ago, but the future for newspapers had to look dicey back then too.

We will focus more on local news, and on stories that provide context and perspective rather than “breaking” news. After all, why should we tell you something you already may know?

Kudos to Mr. Ryerson for acknowledging the fact that even a daily paper can’t be as timely with the news as the Internet. Also, it’s often the perspective and the expertise the reporters bring to the table that make a paper interesting. I can get the news from a variety of free sources, but I’ll always be willing to pay for insightful commentary.

We know we must provide more “local, local” news, what’s happening in your neighborhoods and home communities. We must provide more niche publications that serve narrower segments of our readership.

Hmmm…sounds like a series of blogs might be a better solution.

If we don’t do that (exercise a “watchdog” role over government), who will? Bloggers who often don’t do deep research, but rather re-post what the mainstream media report with a twist that supports their personal views?

Ouch. Dennis, I think there’s room for both your services and those provided by bloggers. Readers will ultimately vote their preference with eyeballs/subscriptions, but the final result might be that they support both.

Speaking of blogs, The Star has a family of them and they’re all accessible from their home page. That’s the good news. The bad news is that they all appear to be an afterthought at best. Looking at the first few, I can see one hasn’t been posted to since 6/23 (Colts Insider – Jeez, what about all the news surrounding training camp, etc.?!), the next hasn’t been touched for over a week and only had five posts for the entire month of July (Hoosier Insider – btw, as a Purdue grad, I’ve got to ask why isn’t there a Boiler Insider?!), etc. If you’re going to feature blogs you need to make a commitment to them. My guess is the traffic to The Star’s blogs is weak. That’s a shame since their website is the ideal place to host a lot of great blogs with a strong local focus.

Mr. Ryerson, if you wind up reading this post, I encourage you to consider some other thoughts I offered on the newspaper business in this previous post.

Competition Demystified (getAbstract Summary)

Here’s another great example of why I love getAbstract summaries: I was able to read the summary of what turned out to be a rather weak book, Competition Demystified in about 10 minutes. Under normal circumstances I would have bought the book and fought my way through the first few chapters before deciding it’s not right for me.

Why the low rating on this one? Two reasons: Oversimplification and “master of the obvious.” The authors talk about commodity vs. dynamic markets, saying that in the former, you can’t out-think your competition, you must operate as efficiently and inexpensively as possible and therefore strategy fades in importance. Huh? How about efficiency strategies?! WalMart, which ironically is cited in other examples in this book, is the king of efficiency, so I don’t think I’d be so quick to dismiss it as a viable strategy.

They go on to say that for an entrenched leader in the market, high barriers to entry are a good thing since they’ll keep out new players. That’s rather obvious, isn’t it?

After covering the challenges involved in competing solely on price, the authors note the lasting consequences of other strategies. They mention that Lowe’s made a major commitment to build new stores in strong markets for Home Depot, and with a commitment like that, Lowe’s can’t simply walk away when Home Depot proves to be a stout competitor. Actually, yes, I think they could walk away at some point, when it becomes clear that they (Lowe’s) are losing a boatload of money on that store, year in and year out. There’s a point at which you just have to acknowledge a bad decision and limit your losses.

I don’t generally give a thumbs-down in a book review, but I didn’t get anything out of this one, so I’d have a hard time recommending it.

SEO for Authors

Stacey Miller points out that SEO is a very important promotional tool for authors. In fact, it should rank right up there (no pun intended) with excerpts, bookstore signings, reviews, etc. If someone has heard you’re an author of a book and they Google your name, what are they going to find? What are the key words and phrases people are likely to type into Google if they’re looking for topics covered in your book? If the book information isn’t towards the top of that first screen of Google results you need SEO help.

There are loads of free SEO resources available online, as a quick Googling illustrates. Or, head over to your favorite online bookstore and buy one of the many good SEO titles currently available. (I’m still working through our own Search Engine Optimization: An Hour a Day and will post a review when I’m finished.)

M.J. Rose on the Publishing Industry

My Wiley colleague Jason Marcuson was kind enough to send me a link to M.J. Rose’s blog, Buzz, Balls & Hype. M.J. is a talented writer and an outspoken critic of the publishing industry. We need more passionate authors like M.J. to help get publishing out of the rut and develop new and exciting products and promotional activities.

Here’s the heart of M.J.’s point:

When we, as an industry, continue to rely on the old ways of doing business and refuse to make any real marketing and advertising breakthroughs as to how we publicize books and incentivize readers - things aren't going to change for more than a tiny handful of books each year.

Absolutely. But I believe we also need to quit trying to live in the old blockbuster world. All too often a publicity budget is disproportionately tilted towards a very small number of what are hoped to become breakout titles. When some number of those titles flop, and they will, it only magnifies the lack of spending on the rest of the list. You don’t need to spend a fortune on each title to give it a chance. Just look at the impact Amazon’s “buy-x-get-y” program can have on a book.

I also strongly believe publicity is a shared responsibility between author and publisher, hence the desire to only hire authors with solid platforms. I can think of several books my own group published where the author’s platform delivered considerably more sales than any P.R. activity we could have initiated from the publisher side.