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The Economist on the Newspaper Industry

Here’s an excellent article from that talks about some of the things newspapers need to do to turn things around. Rupert Murdoch is quoted as saying that the industry has been “remarkably, unaccountably complacent.” Yeah, I’d say that sums it up. Then again, they had no incentive to change as “their owners have for decades enjoyed near monopolies,” according to the article.

Here’s an idea from the article that seems so obvious and yet remains untapped: Have your newspaper reporters cover stories not just with words but with video and audio too. Let’s say I just read an article in the paper about a local incident. Why not mention there’s video to accompany the story on the newspaper’s website? Now that would be a nice change…using the print product to attract more eyeballs to your site. Yes, newspaper reporters probably aren’t the best at creating professional video. So what?! The fact that it comes across as somewhat amateur probably makes it feel less formal, like you’re right there with the reporter as the story developed.

The article goes on with the obligatory reference to The Wall Street Journal as one of the few (only?!) papers to successfully venture into the realm of paid content. Further, other newspapers are likely to follow suit as the advertising market continues to shrink. That’s extremely weak logic. I pay for a subscription to The Wall Street Journal’s online edition because I want to read what Walt Mossberg has to say, for example.  I can’t think of a single Indy Star columnist I’d pay to read. If the Star shifts to a paid subscription model they’ll lose all sorts of traffic – there are just too many free alternatives. A better approach would be to provide free access to print subscribers and charge others. I’m not sure that would sell any more print subscriptions, but it might dramatically slow down the number of cancellations.

There’s also a comment in the article about how newspapers are saving “money by sacking reporters.” Cost cutting is the unfortunate and not always necessary knee-jerk reaction to a tough market. One thing I learned long ago though is that when times are tough and all your competitors are cutting back, that’s the time to get aggressive with new initiatives so that you can come out of the downturn with more momentum than everyone else. A wise man once told me you can’t save your way to prosperity when running a business.

This also got me thinking again about my earlier post that mentioned the idea of creating a mini-issue to go, based on individual reader preferences. I still think that’s a great opportunity, but why not also offer it in audio format? You want to tap into the younger generation, the ones that didn’t grow up reading the paper and aren’t about to start now? How about giving them audio downloads of all the news stories that match their preferences? Make it as easy as a podcast download, feel free to add in 10- or 20-second ads throughout, and see if they’ll listen to it on the work commute, at the gym, etc. What do you have to lose?


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