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Publishing is dying because marketers are the new publishers

Every time I come to New York City, I see the same scene. At the subway stations and on the street, I pass multiple people yelling, “AM New York” to passersby, as they attempt to hand out free newspapers to commuters. But very few people take them. Lately, the hawkers are adding more come-ons to the pitch (“Coupons for 20% off electronics”), but I don’t think it is markedly increasing the uptake among commuters. As someone who grew up devouring newspapers, and did so daily for 35 years, it saddens me a bit when I see this. And even fewer are buying newspapers.

But, truth be told, I am not sad enough to take one and read it myself. I don’t even read the free USA Today dropped outside my hotel room door. I get my news from the Web, and it is already free. No one can lower the price any more.

My friend, Paul Gillin has a blog called Newspaper Death Watch that chronicles the slow decline of an entire publishing industry. Lots of attempts have been made to resuscitate the business, everything from free Web sites to subscription Web sites to hyperlocal news and more, but the steady exodus of readers continues as online news is not only cheaper in many cases, but it is more personalized and more convenient.

But it isn’t just newspapers.

When is the last time you bought an encyclopedia? Wikipedia has crushed them all. Do you still have a phone book in your house or do you Google every number you need? But you knew this already. Everyone knows that some parts of the publishing business are dying because the Internet gives content away. But I don’t think everyone is understanding what is looming.

Home Depot has uploaded hundreds of videos to help you make repairs around your house. Everything from how to install a storm door to choosing the right color of paint. They’ve received over 10 million views. Why does Home Depot do this? Because the hope is that if you know how to do it yourself that you will troop down to Home Depot to buy the tools and supplies needed.

You know what this used to be called? A fix-it book.

Kraft has a smartphone app called iFood Assistant. It lets you put in some ingredients and shows you possible recipes. It lets you search for dishes and get a list of ingredients to buy. You can be standing in the grocery store and it can help you plan dinner. Expect them to start personalizing the recipes based on your family’s diet–they already have a function that helps you find low-priced meals. A free version of iFood Assistant makes sure to recommend Kraft products as part of the recipe, but there is also a paid version of the app replete with coupons. That will set you back a whole buck. Does this move more Kraft product? They sure think so.

You know what this used to be called? A cookbook.

Johnson & Johnson has an interesting program called BabyCenter that sends information to parents about their impending baby. All you need to do is to provide your due date and you’ll get lots of information about how your baby is developing in the fifth month of pregnancy, what things that you should be doing for the baby’s health, and what preparations you should make. And after the baby is born, you continue to get developmental information about your child as she grows. Yes, there are coupons for baby shampoo, but there is a wealth of really useful information that comes along, too.

You know what this used to be called? Parents Magazine.

Why are these smart marketers doing what publishers once did? Because they know that marketers must act like publishers to succeed online. They can’t interrupt people with ads the way they used to, because ads don’t work online unless they are laser focused on what people are doing (such as search ads). Mostly, people are looking to solve their problems and if you solve them, you can sell them something. Kraft evidently believes that spending money on content and apps to solve the problem “What’s for dinner tonight?” is money better spent than on a few more TV commercials for macaroni and cheese.

Marketers are the new publishers. Which is bad news for publishers, because marketers are giving it away. It’s bad, unless the publishers figure out what their new market really is, which is not selling information but getting paid for producing information. Instead of going out of business, a computer magazine might want to ally with Best Buy. Instead of closing its doors, a home finance publisher might want to take its book content and talk to Charles Schwab. You think it was a fluke that Google bought Zagat? It’s only just begun.

And for you marketers that don’t think you need to ally with a publisher? Or can’t afford to acquire one? What does it mean for you? It’s good news for you, too. You can scoop up the writers and other content providers that once worked for publishing companies at pennies on the dollar. As each pillar of the publishing world starts to fall, lots of people who once had steady jobs are now available. They don’t know that they should become marketers, but you know what they should be doing and you can hire them.

If you create content that people really want to spend time with, suddenly you’ve got the marketing approach that everyone is looking for.

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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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