Sunday, March 22, 2009

Thoughts On The Newspaper Business

While enjoying a quiet Sunday morning with my girls, I 2781329487_ba20fd6005_m.jpgfired up the ole MacBook Pro to see what NetNewsWire snatched off the Interwebs. I came across a post over at the Healthcare Economist that outlines the reasons why we still need newspapers.

I've been thinking about this topic for some time now, specifically around two topics: why they are still relevant and what business opportunity they are missing.

Why Newspapers Are Still Relevant

I strongly believe that newspapers are still relevant purely on the fact that the world needs investigative journalism. Big business, politicians and the like, all need to be dragged on the carpet every once and while. The "gotcha" factor is what makes people go out of their way to buy a magazine, newspaper, Tivo the news, etc. We love the drama. We love when criminals and white collar crooks get nailed to the wall. We need folks policing the police, as the Healthcare Economist writes.

Investigative journalism is a form of reporting that brings out the best of writers talents. It's a true story telling format. You have to set up the background. Lay out the issue that is impacting a certain group, audience, culture, etc. Point the finger at who is at fault. And finally, report the feedback of those who are getting the short end of the stick.

Breaking news isn't made for print any more. The Interwebs have taken care of that. The longer, thought-provolking, "gotcha" articles are what make print outlets relevant (whether advertiser buy into that is another story).

Last point I want to make is that newspapers (and long lead print pus) bring credibility to their reporting. I'm more apt to trust what I'm reading in the Globe than I am to trust what I read on a blog - even blogs that are "reputable", have an audience, etc. While blogs are a relevant source for news, they just don't bring the street cred as a brand such as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal or the Washington Post, for example. The proof in the pudding comes in the form of discussions with clients and new business prospects. They all want media coverage and they all want to be in the top tier papers. A blog hit on Mashable is great, but a story in the Wall Street Journal will have a better chance of driving sales inquiries.

For newspapers to continue to be relevant, they need to really step their game up in terms of their business model.

Advertisers aren't buying ads any more. The masses are online. Video and mobile is where it's at. Those two mediums provide THE best opportunity for newspapers to make money.

Newspapers need to create more video content. I'm not talking about simple voice overs on pictures, but in-depth reporting that is accompanied by supporting print coverage. The video can be wrapped around advertisements and include breaks in the segment with ads - similar to what networks are doing now with popular shows. Additionally, papers need to do a better job in packaging their content so their website compliments the paper/magazine. Make very piece of reporting part of a package that makes interested readers engage both via print and online. This will help avoid the, "I don't buy the newspaper because I can just read it online" thing.

Mobile is the Great Frontier

Another great opportunity for news outlets is mobile. For example, look at the iPhone 3.0 OS announcement last week. The OS will enable app developers to sell content with apps, versus solely through iTunes.

How can this translate into a revenue generator? Well, first off, each news outlet should invest in creating an on-device app, not just a mobile version of their website. Using the Apple Store model, news outlets can offer their app for $.99. Within the app, they will be able to sell advertising space as well as additional content for users. For example, if the Boston Globe had a mobile app, they would could offer exclusive content for an additional, one time fee or some sort of monthly fee - all reasonably priced based on the threshold of mobile consumers. I would pay for things like exclusive videos, inside reviews to new technology, archived articles, etc.

What news outlets need to do is interact more with their consumers. Find out what content they really want and determine the purchase threshold I eluded to.

News outlets just aren't acting quick enough. Where's the urgency? Is it too late? Some will say yes. I say no. The mobile and video opportunities are just two examples. These alone won't save the sinking ship, obviously. Just a small piece of the larger revenue generating pie for a service that's important to consumers, whether we like it or not.

Time is running out.

Photo Credit: Just.Luc


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