Page: Digital first? Not so fast

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Posted: Monday, January 9, 2012 10:55 am | Updated: 10:33 am, Mon Jan 23, 2012.

Shakespeare suggested we kill the lawyers and let's hope the same fate awaits the newspaper cognoscenti who see a terminal disease in every printed newspaper.

While their collective "wisdom" on print lacks any foresight, what's more disturbing is that newspaper execs, given their reluctance to explore new distribution models, are escorting their printed editions to the graveyard - and helping to bury their businesses, too.

The first rule of journalism is to consider the source. And these sources - proponents really - about the wealth to be found in the digital future are clueless.

People like Jeff Jarvis and John Paton - and many others pushing the digital-only future - grew up in the newsroom and if there's one thing that's true about a newsroom it's this: Relying on the myopic viewpoint spawned by folks from the newsroom - from people who never sold an ad, delivered the paper in the morning's wee hours or webbed up a press - will sooner kill a newspaper than save it.

Just another website

If you kill off that print thing, then there's little difference - other than the numbers of users, page views and time spent on- site - between you and any other website.

You're just another website.

So to the typical ad agency media buyer - someone usually on their first job, around 25 years old and not able to distinguish between a newspaper and a newsletter - there is no difference in his or her mind.

Which means that because websites like CNN.com can geo-target their ads and deliver larger audiences, you lose the sale.

Then the insert business heads to Advo because you sold your trucks, cashiered your boxes and did away with home delivery.

Yes, the Internet, email, text messaging, cellphones, smartphones, laptops, desktops and tablets are here to stay. Yes, they'll continue to impact media and how it's consumed. But that doesn't mean print is dead.

Negotiating multiple paths

Planes and automobiles are also here to stay. But they haven't killed off bicycles, trains and ships.

Your job as a newspaper executive is to figure out how to successfully operate in these tricky times while still holding your business true to what it is: a newspaper.

Before buying the false prophecy of digital riches, think - for God's sake think - about the options for making your print paper stronger and your brand more prevalent in the collective mind of your market.

Here are some of my ideas:

•News is free, but for as long as your ancestors owned a radio, circa 1925, news has always been free. Only the tools have changed: Now it's available on Wi-Fi equipped laptops, cell-tower linked tablets, smartphones and cellphones. This challenges home delivery and single copy sales. So what can you do?

Answer: Adopt a hybrid circulation model. Turn your newspaper into a TMC product and deliver it to the doorsteps of all your market's potential readers while continuing to sell it in stores. This strategy does a few things. One, by placing it at the doorstep, you're showing your readers your newspaper is worth reading; two, it improves the odds of your advertisers' message getting inside the home; three, it increases your newspaper's penetration rate, making your advertisers happy; and, four, allows your retail partners to continue to make a few bucks from selling your paper.

•People are crushed for time. They are more inclined to read a 300-word story on a website, or, worse, glean the headline from Google. So what do you do?

Answer: Reformat to a tabloid, or a compact broadsheet. They're both more tightly edited than a traditional broadsheet and thus, a faster read. This change also allows you to continue selling print advertising - where the major ad bucks remain - and remind readers you're available online.

•People enjoy saving money in these worrisome economic times and victory - especially in this troubled era - is showing the advertising community that your newspaper is in demand. So what can you do?

Answer: Lower the cover price to increase sales, both in home delivery as well as single copy. Your remaining business partners know discounting increases sales, so co-opt their tactics.

•If you have a paywall, then double or triple the cover price of your Sunday or weekend print edition. The lure? Provide your once-a-week single-copy buyers with one week's access to your website, or every time you sell a Sunday or weekend print subscription, give that new reader free access to your online content.

•Create an ad campaign selling the benefits of reading a printed newspaper. Show your clients you believe in advertising, too. Better yet, show your readers you actually believe in your own product.

•Give away your paper at the schools. Consider this your version of community service. Besides, if the kids bring home your paper, mom, dad or the guardian might read it - and you'll build a print reading habit among the young.

Having spent 20 plus years in and around newspapers, I already know the universal response to these many suggestions:

"They won't work in our market."

When I hear this refrain, it proves my point. It's a brain dead business.

Self-respecting monopolists - like the ones that used to inhabit the newspaper industry - don't sign up for more competition. They control it by hoarding tools or changing tactics so they remain the market leader.

So if you give up your print product, you go from being, at least in the United States, one of about 1,400 daily newspapers to one of about 100 million websites around the world.

How do you command your market then? Jeff, John, any answers here?

Doug Page is reachable at dpagenewsandtech@gmail.com.

 

 

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5 comments:

  • Tabloidboss posted at 12:51 am on Sun, Jan 15, 2012.

    Tabloidboss Posts: 1

    As the printed newspaper world moves more and more toward digital editions, in South Africa the process has been a slow moving one. The fact that access to the internet is still to be realized in every home is partly to blame. Most newspapers here have some sort of digital presence and still produce a printed version. Sales of these newspapers have dropped incredibly over the years. I have to agree with Douglas that every effort must be made to keep the printed edition alive and his suggestions may help just do that. I for one will implement some of those ideas.

     
  • EdLewis posted at 10:42 am on Thu, Jan 12, 2012.

    EdLewis Posts: 1

    I think you missed the boat on what digital first is about. Digital, technology and distribution becomes the primary means of news gathering regardless of what form it takes to be read in. This is about content collection and lowering cost of news that is killing the balance sheet of an industry. Advertisers do care about the quality of circ and TMC just kills that. When a consumer pays for a newspaper they read it, news, display ads and classified. I pray that local newspapers remain in a print and online form- they are the NATIONAL, STATE and LOCAL level checks, balances, sports, events, issue and social calendar for the community. Nothing else can replace it. Digital First is a fiscal and technologial evolution resurrention of the model.

     
  • Golden posted at 5:18 pm on Tue, Jan 10, 2012.

    Golden Posts: 1

    I couldn’t agree more with your analysis of media’s collisional era, and with the hybrid remedies you suggest. I’m not an outsider: I write for both newspapers and websites. Your fusion concept is a winner!


     
  • dcfreep posted at 10:31 am on Tue, Jan 10, 2012.

    dcfreep Posts: 1

    "Which means that because websites like CNN.com can geo-target their ads and deliver larger audiences, you lose the sale."

    "one of about 1,400 daily newspapers to one of about 100 million websites around the world."

    Neither of these reasons hold a candle to local niche publications that develop a community. Don't let this deter you from developing digital only.

    Find a region, city, county, whatever with 50,000 residents/commonalities and write about them. CNN doesn't target that, who cares if they have a bigger audience if the news isn't relevant to the area you serve. Develop a niche market, make yourself the center of your community, the source of everything, you will succeed as digital only,

    That being said, I have considered doing a weekly run down of top stories in print, but just to widen my audience reach and to add to my advertising revenue.


     
  • ice5nake posted at 9:42 am on Tue, Jan 10, 2012.

    ice5nake Posts: 1

    I've delivered a newspaper, worked in a newspapers Marketing department, and worked in the newsroom. I was a website developer and designer in the later two roles.

    What you're saying might be a good reminder that newspapers need to keep their print products alive.

    But ...

    Isn't there a difference between digital first and digital only? From a news creation platform perspective digital first is the only way forward.

    The ad side is what really needs to be pushed. Many local business are just now starting to realize the value of online marketing. The problem is they are going to Facebook, Twitter, and Google. And not the newspaper websites, for their online marketing. A big part of this is because the software platforms the newspapers have suck.

     
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