On the future of local newspapers


I have to admit, I never subscribed to a daily newspaper. I love news and get them in many ways. When I ride the train to Manhattan I’d always look for the paper another passenger had left behind. On rare occasions I was even observed digging through the tubs of used newspapers at the Hoboken station. Killing time on a train with no internet connection is when I desperately need a newspaper. Mostly, I get my news online. What could be better than up to the minute, targeted news?
Well, in a futile effort to turn back time, the Philadelphia Inquirer is trying to fend off declining print circulation by giving the print edition more relevancy. How? By instituting a policy of “print first” and instructing staff not to break stories on line.

I’ve talked recently with a few people in the publishing industry. While all share the same core problem: advertising for their online media does not compensate for the decline in print ad revenues and smaller circulation, none thought that this trend is reversible and that by restricting your online content, demand for the print product will suddenly rise.

It brings up a few good questions.
Is the printed newspaper as we know it doomed for extinction?
I think so. Good content still has a market, and it will still be paid for by advertising prior, during and around the content. Since so many of us carry with us everywhere our electronic reading devices (from the laptop, through the iphone to the Kindle), the need for a printed boundle of broad content will diminish.

How will publishers make money then? What is the future business model?
We all know that charging users for online content works only in very special places where the content is of high professional value or the employer, rather than the consumer, pays the bill. Many of the paid subscribers of the WSJ.com or the Harvard Business Review HBR.com do not foot the bill themselves. Nobody else is able to charge for content. Salon.com have tried every possible avenue in the last few years and settled on just tons of advertising.

What can the local newspaper do? what will publishing 2.0 look like? Become the center of local information and local community. Open up and think about the paper not as an employer of journalists, but as a provider of unique and easy to access valued content.
The content will come from many sources. AP, Local reporters, Local analysts, Community journalists, local and global bloggers, etc. The publisher returns to being a content publisher rather than a content producer. By sifting through the mountains of content, editors can clean, categorize, source, filter, tag and recommend content so we as users get relevant content we care about (and are willing to tolerate the ads that accompany them. In one of the successful models I’ve seen, the premium accounts main premium is the removal of most ads.)

Advertising budgets are moving online (33% increase in the last year) consistently with the increase of time we spend online. As ad technology, bandwidth and targeting algorithms improve, a publisher that can deliver a highly segmented audience with a high quality ad experience will be able to ask for top dollars.

Online advertising rates will increase. As we move towards a 100% trackable media, the difference between TV and the computer will diminish. Both channels will deliver similar content supported by ads. Advertisers will pay by reach, and if the quality of the experience is the same, an interactive experience where the user can click the ad and go to the advertiser should be worth more!.

The newspaper will become local media center that is more open, interactive, customized and relevant. Eventually, even profitable.

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