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How do newspapers flourish in the digital world?

It’s not a news story–doesn’t really rise to the level of newsworthiness–but people do seem to be talking more lately about the death of newspapers. Recently even Eric Schmidt of Google discussed how newspapers must find a mixture of advertising, micropayments, and regular subscriptions to fund their futures. To me, all this talk about how newspapers collect money is misplaced. Instead, I think newspapers must think about how to flourish by remaining relevant in the new digital world.

Front page of the New York Times on Armistice ...

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Gee, really? Advertising and subscriptions? Who’da thunk it? Micropayments are just a high tech version of newsstand sales, just for individual articles. But the newspaper business is not in trouble because they don’t know how to charge. They in trouble because no one knows why they should pay.
Newspapers aren’t the first media business threatened by technology. Radio didn’t die with the advent of TV. It changed. When people stopped listening to Gunsmoke and started watching it, what did radio do? It started airing wall-to-wall music, news, and talk. It was the end of one era, yes, but the start of another. Newspapers face a similar situation, where they must face their problems in order to change.
Most newspapers suffer from the same problem as many local businesses struck by the Internet. They discover that their main advantage was that they are local. Your local mattress store doesn’t really have the best quality, the friendliest service, the widest selection, and the lowest prices, despite what the sign says. In truth, they were just the closest to your house. On the Internet, every mattress store is equally close to your house and they all deliver right to your house. To compete on the Internet these old line businesses must find some real differentiation.
Newspapers have the same problem. Every one of them syndicates their stories from AP and Reuters, their columnists in many cases, and their comics from King Features. They are all the same. You can read the same story in hundreds of papers every day.
In their hometowns, that’s worth something, because you can’t buy any of a hundred papers, but on the Internet you can read every one of them. Now some newspapers truly have unique content–the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and the Washington Post don’t have much to worry about. But most newspapers, including many owned by the same companies that own those papers, are in trouble, because they have no real differentiation.
Except one. They do have local news. Some newspapers are following the trend of hyperlocal news, where they work hard to run down every story on each little town school board meeting, expressly because that content is unique.
There’s no way to know whether people’s appetite for that kind of news will save newspapers, but I think if they hire some of the bloggers with strong local opinions, and they tell their stringers to shoot videos of their stories, they have a good chance, because they’ll be delivering content that some people want and can’t find elsewhere.
But if they think that they can do what they’ve always done and just tell themselves that they’ll make it all up in micropayments, I think they are kidding themselves. It’s not about how you get paid. It’s about why someone would pay you.

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is an expert in digital marketing, search technology, social media, text analytics, web personalization, and web metrics, who, as a Certified Speaking Professional, regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide. Mike serves as a senior strategist for Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also serves as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website, ibm.com, most recently as the Manager of ibm.com Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He is a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research. Mike worked at ibm.com from 1998 through 2006, pioneering IBM’s successful search marketing program. IBM’s website of over two million pages was a classic “big company” website that has traditionally been difficult to optimize for search marketing. Mike, working with Bill Hunt, developed a strategy for search engine marketing that works for any business, large or small. Moran and Hunt spearheaded IBM’s content improvement that has resulted in dramatic gains in traffic from Google and other internet portals.

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