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We still can’t get away from the never ending stories and blogs about the death of newspapers, and whether e-readers can “save” newspapers. So let’s try this approach — the debate shouldn’t be about whether any one device will save newspapers, but whether we’ll save the ability to produce strong, independent journalism.

Information will be available on a number of different devices — print, online, mobile and e-readers. The newspaper part could very well be an abbreviated version of what we currently see, either in the days of the week we get print or product size.

But who’s going to produce that content? To think that bloggers and community folks can fill the local content void is naive. Maybe I’m too old school about this, but I firmly believe that there will be, for the longterm, a demand for quality information. Not the talk TV, scream until you’re hoarse opinion that masquerades as news; not the off-the-cuff opinions widely available on the web; not the uninformed blabbering that often gets facts wrong.

I’m talking quality information from trained journalists who play a story down the middle, with no adjectives that force an agenda, no leading questions that slant an issue. Don’t get me wrong. There are some bloggers and community folks that can do just fine uncovering local tidbits that will prove interesting to their communities.  But those folks are few and far between because they don’t and often can’t invest the time, committment and expense it takes to uncover information.

And how many of them can really tell you something of significance that you didn’t know? Take a look at the information journalists produce everyday (and remember, be platform agnostic).  Take a look at the information they provide everyday, and you”ll see that’s what they do. Don’t believe me?Just look at your local newspaper and ask yourself: where would I get this information if not from journalists?

Without that information, we stand a real risk of dumbing down America, which will only hear the noise and not what matters. Forget about savings  newspapers. We need to save journalism.

The views expressed on this blog are mine alone.

About 25 years ago, the milk industry launched a very clever campaign to get Americans to drink more milk. “Got Milk” featured celebrities including Christie Brinkley, Hugh Jackman, Britney Spears, the BackStreet Boys, and Spike Lee. There’s great debate whether this campaign has been a success. While milk sales continue to decline, consumption of other dairy products, especially cheese, are on the rise.

One thing is clear: The “Got Milk” campaign is one of the most memorable in marketing history. At the very least, it put the phrase “Got Milk” in the popular culture and probably spurred at least some people to examine whether they should give mik a second try.

This kind of bold, brash marketing campaign is exactly what the media industry needs. In May’s Newspaper and Technology magazine, I argue that media companies need to go on a campaign of shameless self promotion. The industry has to tell customers why it’s relevant, point out the print and digital media have huge watchdog rolls monitoring government on behalf of our citizens, and note specific cases in which its made a difference. We need to remind people, in an aggressive and innovative way, that we have a direct and daily impact on the lives of people in our coverage areas.

Historically, media companies haven’t done that, believing the work should speak for itself, and that, somehow, promoting what we do conflicts with our journalist standards.  And look where that’s gotten us.

It’s time to take another approach.

Got new?

The views expressed on this blog are mine alone. My  blog appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday. You can also read me at www.aimgroup.com and www.newsandtech.com

There tends to be a ton of hyperbole surrounding e-readers. They’re either devices that save newspaper companies from sure ruin or visions of shangrila that will hasten the demise of the media as we know it.

Here’s what I think is closer to the truth: E-readers will be a part of a multiplatform strategy that will keep newspapers healthy for years to come.

Media companies will shortly have four platforms for information delivery — print newspapers, online, mobile, and e-readers — and they will each deliver information in different ways. (Let me say, the SHOULD deliver information in different ways because users want different things from each product.) As such, newspapers have to find ways to take advantage of the delivery systems available to them and squeeze as much revenue as possible out of those systems

E-readers alone won’t save newspapers, which is why all of the blogs, opinion pieces and stories that focus on that one aspect miss the point entirely. Instead of focusing on one delivery information delivery system, we should all focus on a  strategy to best take advantage of all of the weapons in the arsenal. How media companies should use those weapons will be the topic of my blogs next week.

The views expressed on this blog are mine alone. You can also read me at www.newsandtech.com and www.aimgroup.com

On Monday, I noted how the Wall Street Journal and New York Times were the only two media companies that can make money with their digital offerings. So what do the rest of us do? It’s fairly simply. Come up with a subscription plan that includes all of your print and digital offerings.

Newspapers now have four platforms for information distribution — print, online, mobile, and, shortly e-readers. For those that don’t want to jump into the e-reader fray, netbooks might be an option.

Many media companies make the mistake of looking at each of these products separately. They charge a subscription price for newspapers, might charge on an IPhone app, are trying to charge for online, and then will hit customers again with an e-reader charge. Users aren’t going to pay four time for information. But they might pay for a bundled package that gives them what they want on the platforms they feel like using at the time.

On Sunday mornings, I want my strong cup of coffee, my recliner, and my newspaper. When I’m on the run, I have my phone for quick bits of information (sports scores, stock prices, weather) and breaking news. I use my laptop scour my favorite local news site for updates in the evening, and I can envision using an e-reader to get subscriptions to my favorite newspapers and magazines.

All media companies need is a bundling plan that makes sense. That’s where the money is.

The views on this blog are mine and mine alone.

Ruppert Murdoch says the Wall Street Journal will soon start charging for all of its content. Good for them. I hope the rest of the industry doesn’t rush head long into a scheme that won’t work for a majority of digital outlets.

I say “for them” because the WSJ is one of two newspapers in the country that could make money by charging for its content. The other: the New York Times. All of the other newspapers: no way.

Here’s why. The WSJ and NYT each produce exclusive content not available anywhere else. The WSJ’s financial reporting is the best there is, and the information and insights important to businesses and financiers around the globe. The NYT  is, arguably, the last great American newspaper. With 1,200 reporters it can still cover national and international news like no one else. People want to read their investigative piece, and their lineup of columnists like Friedman, Brooks, Goodman and Rich are unparalled.

If each start to charge, will their page views and visits decrease? Absolutely. But I wouldn’t care. These paying customers are likely to be more engaged with the digital product and more valuable to advertisers. These two sites  will likely shed drive by visits who come for one piece of information and leave the site. Those visits have little value to advertisers.

Can others follow the lead? Doubtful. To make money by charging for information, you need something that’s compelling, can’t be found anywhere else, and can attract a cadre of paying customers through a national audience. Kristof’s columns on how some governments use rape to wage war against its citizens meet that definition. A story on whether a local school board votes to put a levy on the ballot does not. That might hold intense interest about a few hundred people in the local community; Kristof might hold interest among tens of thousands. You can easily see which makes more money.

So, what should the industry do? That’s the topic for the next blog

My goodness. That was my first reaction when I started reading the stories and blogs after Amazon announced its new Kindle DX. Several said there’s no way this new device will save newspapers. Others ridiculed the $489 price. I’m surprised no one called for burning Amazon in effigy. (I suspect many of these blogs were written ahead of time because some appeared online right before or just as Amazon made the DX announcement. So much for understanding your topic).

Folks, let’s all take a deep breath. The Amazon announcement really isn’t about whether an e-reader can save newspapers. It’s about whether media companies can partner with device manufacturers in a way that creates a sustaining revenue model for all.

Look at all of the hints here. The New York Times is cutting its subscription rate on the Kindle DX’s to $9.99 a month from the $13.99 a month it costs on the current Kindle. Does that mean that Amazon worked with the NYT to set a price both could live with? That would be a departure from the current practice, in which Amazon sets the price, and newspapers have to live with it. Has Amazon also negotiated a better revenue split on subscriptions? It’s no secret newspapers only keep 30% of the Kindle subscription sales, a fee that rankles publishers.

Amazon will discount the price of the DX to any customer who purchases a long-term subscription to one of its newspaper partners (NYT, Boston Globe, Washington Post). We don’t know how much they’ll discount the price, though I’m sure that’ll leak at some point. Does this mean the newspaper companies also get a piece of any Kindle sales made under this arrangement?

I haven’t heard anyone in the newspaper business claim e-readers are going to save newspapers, yet blogs and stories fixate on that issue. E-readers ARE NOT going to save newspapers, but they can be a viable option for information delivery if the terms are right. And I think that’s what the parties are focusing on. Can we get the terms right?

The views expressed on this blog are mine alone. You can already read me at www.aimgroup.com and www.newsandtech.com

Kindle has justed announced its new Kindle DX, a larger-screen version that should better display newspaper and magazine content. Already, bloggers are weighing in, claiming that the new Kindle won’t save newspapers. Well, that’s no surprise. No one thing is going to save newspapers. But there are some hints that Amazon may be open to changing its business model, and if that’s the case, that could be the difference maker as newspapers decide which e-reader they’ll embrace.

I’ll blog more on that tomorrow; I’m at the Digital Publishing Alliance Meeting.

The views expressed on this blog are mine and mine alone.

We all know that media companies are turning over every rock they can to find new digital revenue, everything from ill-conceived micro-payments to erecting pay walls online. But here’s a thought: would newspaper companies increase digital revenue by licensing their content through exclusive deals with wireless companies?

I started thinking about after reading that Apple and Verizon are in talks about an I-Phone for Verizon. The first emotion that hit me was panic. If Apple and Verizon join forces, a combo of information delivery through the I-Phone and ultra-cheap netbooks could be problematic to media companies hoping  the next generation of e-readers helps reverse the revenue slide the industry finds itself in. (Newspapers wouldn’t get any revenue for their content through I-Phones or net books; they’ll at least get some subscription, and maybe advertising, revenue through e-readers).

So here’s my thought: If Apple and Verizon can join forces, why can’t newspapers get involved, too?

Here’s the thing: No online pay model is going to fully support a digital operation. Just look at the difficulties sites like InDenverTimes and SeattlePostGlobe are having attracting subscribers and donors. And remember, many newspaper sites went away from the paid model several years back because — remember this? — they weren’t making enough money.

So what if a newspaper company went to a big wireless outfit — let’s call in ABC Wireless — with this proposal:  ABC and its users get exclusive rights to the digital content we provide. We’ll put up a hard pay wall on our online sites. Existing ABC customers get free access; everyone else has to pay (or buy an ABC service.)  ABC has no say over what content we produce, including stories that may be critical of ABC. We share revenue all around. We get a portion of every subscriber on the ABC network; ABC gets a portion of our digital and print revenues. And, we do whatever is technically and legally possible to stop all others from posting no more than a simpler headline link back to our site. No synopsis or fat paragraphs of information that give the story away.

Of course, there are a lot of problems with this, but that’s for another blog. This one is just to get people thinking about the other possibilities that don’t seem to be discussed.

My blog appears Monday, Wednesday and Fridays. You can also read me at www.aimgroup.com and www.newsandtech.com

I have the pleasure of serving with Angela Conn0r on the Society of Professional Journalists’ Digital Media Committee. I recently wrote a blog post that said not all newspapers needed to put all of their content online. This has sparked a lot of conversation and commenting. Here’s Angela’s thoughtful response, which can also be found on the comment section of this blog:

Ray: So should they not care if people want a wealth of local news online? And what should they do when something like a West Seattle blog comes along? Perhaps you’re saying this is likely not to become an issue in some of these small towns. I hear what you’re saying in this post but I’m not sure how this model best serves the community. But maybe the goal is to create a model that best serves the newspaper. That’s what we’re talking about here right? Maybe I’m just a bit off-track.

I don’t believe there’s an inherent conflict between what’s good for the community and what best serves newspapers. But I also believe we’re in a digital journalism era in which we have to put revenue first.

We can still use all of the platforms at our disposal to provide customers with information around the clock. To do that, newspaper companies need to differentiate between it’s products. Small and mid size newspapers can do so in this manner:

The daily or weekly newspaper provides the guts of what’s going on in the community. The newspaper holds, for its own, those longer features and investigative pieces that play best in print. And they don’t put them online. That forces community members to buy a newspaper.

The online site teases to those pieces — in a few, short graphs with a some multi media elements — in an effort to get customers to subscribe to the newspaper. Mobile gives customers a snapshot of what’s happening in 140 characters or less.

That’s a model that pushes our customers to our aid product and doesn’t give away everything. But it’s a revenue-centri and not reporting-centric model. That’s a paradigm shift for those of us who have always put journalism first. Our priorities are now revenue No. 1 and content is 1A and it’s going to have to be that way for a while because without revenue there will be no content. Some of the startup online news sites are quickly finding that out, and I’ll blog about them — and their difficulties — in the near future.

If we take the stance that I once would have advocated — that journalism comes first and revenue second — we’ll find the industry in a death spiral we can’t overcome.

My blog appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and could expand if demand warrants.