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How newspapers can adapt to survive

Newspapers are dead. Haven’t you heard? Yep, it says so in every blog you read. What killed them, exactly? The Internet, that’s what. You see, every story you can read in that newspaper you bought you could have read for free on the Web, so why buy the paper? That’s what everyone says, anyway. But is it true? I think that for newspapers that don’t adapt, the Internet will be the death of them, but I think that many newspapers can survive if they pay attention to how they must change.


Traditional dead trees newspapers have been pronounced dead before. When radio, and later television, began to beam news into homes the moment it happened, it seemed as though newspapers had no chance, being published just once a day. And, it’s true, that if all you needed was yesterday’s sports score, you could probably get it much faster over the airwaves than waiting for the newspaper.
So, did newspapers die? Some did. The 1960s and 1970s, especially, was a decade of large contraction in the newspaper industry in many countries, because those newspapers that did not adapt did fail. But others adapted and remained healthy businesses.
What the successful ones did was go beyond the headlines. TV and radio could tell you the score, but they didn’t have time to analyze the game and interview the players. Even if you watched the game on TV, you’d still buy the paper to read the analysis of why things happened and hear the juicy rumors about what might happen next.
Newspapers had to dig deep to differentiate by bringing you content that no one else had. They must do the same thing in the face of the Internet threat. The Internet allows people to give away information that newspapers sell, so how can they be unique?
They’ll never do it with warmed over wire service stories or syndicated comics that everyone else has. They probably can’t even do it with better analysis and deeper coverage, because while the New York Times can do that, most newspapers can’t beat 100 bloggers with one commentator.
What can they do? In a post a few months ago, I suggested hyperlocal news as one possibility. By aggressively covering local communities in a systematic way, they could put content on the Internet that is higher quality and more comprehensive than anyone else. They could even co-opt quality local bloggers to post on their hyperlocal site, too. Continuing our sports analogy, hyperlocal newspapers could provide in-depth coverage for kids’ sporting events that you can’t get anyplace else.
Will that solve the content problem? I’m not sure, but it’s worth a try. But I wonder if they need to do more than that, because newspapers have had Web sites for years that they’ve never been able to monetize the way they profit from their paper editions. Newspapers need to find an advertising approach that matches their new hyperlocal focus.
Maybe this seems obvious, but they need to attract hyperlocal advertisers for hyperlocal news. If you are showing news about a single town, you need to show ads from the local restaurant, the dry cleaners, and the coffee shop. Now, if those businesses are large company chains, you can knock on the doors of their advertising teams and sell them some ads. Unfortunately, most of them are not.
Most of them are tiny companies with one location whose “advertising team” is 20 minutes of the owner’s time once a year, when he renews his Yellow Pages ad in the local phone book. His biggest marketing decision of the year is “half page or quarter page.”
How do newspapers reach these companies? Well, one way would be to buy up the local Yellow Pages businesses. Most phone companies have been selling them off for a song, and newspapers could use the list of companies as perfect people to buy ads on their hyperlocal site, in conjunction with their regular print ad. They could even use the data as an online local directory.
But there’s one problem. Those small companies don’t know how to design ads. And they’d like to die ignorant of the whole process. All they want is customers streaming through the door that heard about them somewhere–somewhere that didn’t cost very much and took no skills to create.
Companies like PaperG and AdReady are trying to bridge that gap. PaperG designs the ads for the small business and contracts with hyperlocal newspapers to run the ads for about $50 a week for any hyperlocal news site. AdReady has a self-service site that helps a small business design and place ads on the Web.
At some point, paper newspapers probably will die, but newspaper companies don’t need to. If they focus on unique content and appealing to advertisers that need to reach those readers, their online businesses will be as relevant as their print businesses have been. Failing to adapt is what causes you to fail, just as failing to adapt to TV did in the 1960s. The newspaper companies that adapted to TV need to find the will to do it again. Hyperlocal news and advertising models that match could be one solution.

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is an expert in internet 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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