Saturday, October 3, 2009

London newspaper switch to free model

     Here's an imaginative idea for helping newspapers survive, make them free.  For several years, I've been suggesting that one business plan for mid-sized newspapers like the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel would be to offer total market coverage in a one-section newspaper with other sections available for a fee. This would serve the advertisers who need wider markets than the very limited markets available online.

      Now there's a model to follow. Russian billionaire Alexander Lebedev is turning the London Evening Standard into a free newspaper, increasing its circulation from 250,000 to 600,000 papers a day. Yes, it's going to lose a lot of circulation money, but it expects to more than make up for it with increased advertising.

      The model I've proposed would continue to pick up its subscription revenue because most current subscribers would continue to subscribe, but vastly increase its advertising revenue by offering total market coverage in its free section.  Certainly adding coverage would increase costs, but I suspect that -- especially if the free papers strongly promoted offerings available behind pay windows, both online and in print -- you'd see a much stronger revenue model emerge.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Gasp! Newspaper subscribers seem to like their papers

Today must be my day for finding really interesting stories that I find fascinating but disagree with the conclusions. This one comes from Ad Age (one of my favorite magazines). It reports that newspaper "subscribers are sticking with their papers for longer -- and frequently paying more." It goes on to report that cancellations are way down, and draws the conclusion that the reason is that publishers have gotten better at managing their subscriptions.

For example, the story goes: "publishers got much smarter about the way they sell subscriptions, for one thing, de-emphasizing or even abandoning home delivery to areas that cost more to service but didn't mean much to advertisers." I realize I'm kind of slow sometimes, but how does limiting home delivery help keep subscriptions up? It does report publishers are more open to discounts and continuing low rates for subscribers who were attracted by promotions.

But, how's this for an alternative explanation: We consumers really like printed newspapers? We are willing to pay for them? We find it much more fulfilling to read print? We like the puzzles, games, agate, agony columns and the like that "clutter up print," according to some of the new media types. I'd even go a step farther based on my experience last week of finding myself cut off by my local newspaper because I changed credit cards. Oh, yes. They did send me a postcard telling me that my subscription was running out. I got it five days after the first day without a paper being delivered. The point is that the consumers may be reacting and supporting a product they like -- despite publishers' stupid cutbacks, poor service and shrinking news content. It's still better than online-only.

Should we just kill all newspapers and be done with it?

Funny how these things work out. Yesterday I was talking with a class of freshmen journalism students about the need to get input from all points of view to have an informed opinion or even a sense of what is happening. Today, Newsweek runs a vitriolic column from one of the smug new media types, in this case Daniel Lyons, about how newspapers should be gone and the sooner we get rid of them the better. It makes my point exactly.

Most of it is composed of misguided history, mistaken assumptions and the certainty that he is right and the millions of people who still read paper newspapers are just too dumb to get it. But there is a lot of truth in much of his column. Yes, newspaper companies have been arrogant and smug (it takes one to know one, I say to Lyons, and, yes, I am smug as well on lots of things, but this is an area I wouldn't claim to be the end-all, be-all). Yes, they didn't adapt quickly enough. Yes, they lived for years with a monopoly just printing money. But, yes, they serve some functions besides just delivering news, and many of these functions aren't being covered by new media (or broadcast).

For example, Lyons points to the reporting by Politico, Gawker, the Huffington Post and the Daily Beast as evidence that newspapers aren't needed. Would any of them be as good without the reporting of the New York Times, Washington Post and their ilk? I asked a friend who contributes to the Huffington Post. He says he couldn't do what he does without the newspapers. And I don't really remember any of them reporting on the Milwaukee Common Council recently.

The bottom line is that, yes, I need to read alternative viewpoints. And I do. But I also need far more real information -- facts, for example -- than I am getting from the online-only sites or broadcast. Perhaps Lyons is correct that if we just get those dinosaur print newspapers out of the way that, somehow, all the new media sites will become so profitable that they'll pour the money into reporting that is currently being spent by newspapers. And, somehow, advertisers will actually start making enough money from their Internet advertising that they'll spend enough advertising to start paying for actual paid reporting. But neither of those things is happening now, nor is it likely they will happen in the near future.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Americans object to advertiser online tracking

    A new study finds that two-thirds of Americans object to online tracking by advertisers, and that number rises the more they know about what's happening.  As I've commented in the past, hubris (especially the kind taught in our business schools) is the biggest danger to new media growth.  That's hubris as in assuming that it doesn't really matter what people think, they will just line up like sheep no matter the invasions of privacy. (And, yes, I know that Google tracks my e-mail keystrokes; I just haven't decided what to do about it.)

Gay Talese on how tape recorders killed journalism

Author Gay Talese on "How the tape recorder killed journalism." It's a six-minute video.

Public view of press accuracy hits 20-year low

New Pew Research report says public's view of press accuracy is at its lowest point in two decades. Perception of accuracy, professionalism and willingness to admit mistakes are way down (-26%, -13 and -13 over the 20-year period covered), and the partisan split is much larger than ever with its usual results of Fox News and Wall Street Journal on one side and the rest of television and the New York Times on the other. Notable is that neither of the newspapers scores well. In fact, newspapers are hit hard in the survey with respondents believing that local television stations are much more likely to uncover local news than local newspapers. I realize that contra-factual finding can cast doubt on the survey respondents' understanding of reality, but it's the perceptions that count.

If you read nothing else today, read this

Columnist Joe Mandese of Media magazine (published online in MediaPost) offers a very nice takeout on the changing media revenue landscape. Calling it a revenue landscape is way too dispassionate for his work, but it fits what's happening since media companies are faced with changing the way they get paid for their work.

But Mandese's chief contribution in this analysis is just that, analysis. He puts a large number of developments into context, and lays out the new landscape facing media companies. His most controversial offering may well be that it might be time to drop some of the traditional walls between journalism and advertising. Journalism may have no choice.

While not perfect in my view -- Mandese, like so many new media writers, seems to accept some unproven assumptions like "citizen journalism" effectiveness -- but it's the most complete and reasonable analysis of the current situation I've read recently. If you read nothing else today, read this.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Advertising and beaches, what's wrong with the media?

A thought while reading my Sunday Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. There's an old advertising slogan that says without advertising consumers don't know what they're missing. I was thinking of that as I planned a winter vacation while looking at the very thin four-page Travel section with only a couple of ads, and none of them offering anything new. Whereas once upon a time, I had a fat section with lots of advertising suggesting different locations, now the locations all are spending all their money online. So how do I find them? I can't call my travel agent, because the personal service ones have been replaced by human robots reading prices off computers and without any real knowledge. I can't call hotels and packagers that I don't know about. I just stuck "beach vacations Mexico" on a Google search, and got 252,000 hits -- worthless for giving me good ideas.
So why is it that I am the one saying this? Why aren't newspapers and magazines uniting to sell their value in advertising of their own? The cheap online ad folks are constantly pushing their products, even without real evidence that they work.
And I'll probably go back to the same beach I've visited for most of the past decade because nobody really wants to sell me on a new location.

Suburban newspapers doing well

Yet another community newspaper group meets -- and happiness ensues. This is the Suburban Newspaper Association. Yes, advertising is off, but it's off much less than in newspapers in general. In fact, these hyper-local newspapers are, by and large, quite profitable. Some interesting advice and suggestions that give a flavor of what the industry can do.

Star-Tribune emerges from bankruptcy

Minneapolis Star-Tribune emerges from bankruptcy with a letter to readers expressing thanks and hopes for the future.

What works in social media

Interesting column on what works for business in social media and what doesn't. The ideas are the same for personal social media, I would think.