On News & Tech, Douglas Page posts a diatribe against “the newspaper cognoscenti who see a terminal disease in every printed newspaper.” He declaims against papers turning digital because a digital newspaper is “just another website” and less attractive to advertisers than a printed publication.
He suggests a number of possible ways to keep printed papers relevant in an increasingly electronic world where free news is only a laptop, tablet, or smartphone click away. For example:
Adopt a hybrid circulation model. Turn your newspaper into a TMC product and deliver it to the doorsteps of all your market’s potential readers while continuing to sell it in stores. This strategy does a few things. One, by placing it at the doorstep, you’re showing your readers your newspaper is worth reading; two, it improves the odds of your advertisers’ message getting inside the home; three, it increases your newspaper’s penetration rate, making your advertisers happy; and, four, allows your retail partners to continue to make a few bucks from selling your paper.
(Perhaps I’m not Mr. Page’s target audience, but I found it kind of sloppy that there was no explanation of what “TMC” means anywhere in the article. I had to Google to find out that it stands for “Total Market Coverage,” those free newspapers that everyone gets delivered whether they want them or not but no one ever reads.)
Other suggestions include reformatting to a tabloid to sate people’s hunger for shorter news bites they can read in a hurry, lowering newspaper price to spur sales, bumping up the price of Sunday editions but including a weekly paywall pass in the price to cross-promote the print and web content, and giving away the paper free at schools.
Perhaps Page has a point about papers getting lost in the clutter of all the other websites, but there’s something to be said for reducing the number of trees that are killed to publish papers fewer people actually read. A publication should exist to service its reader’s needs, not just its publisher’s, and if people don’t want to read your printed paper you can’t trick them into changing their minds.
Whether Page wants to admit it or not, circulation numbers are falling year by year. It’s pretty clear which way the market is going. While paper may never die out completely, it will sooner or later reach a point of diminishing returns. Even papers that don’t plan to ditch their printed versions would still do well to pay attention to what the market wants.
There’s an old quote sometimes attributed to John Wanamaker that highlights the problem of traditional advertising: “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.” That is increasingly less and less the case thanks to the internet. Outlets like newspapers have been able to reap huge profits because of advertisers not knowing “which half” is effective, but the model is changing and newspapers have to change along with it.
During a now-fabled meeting between Sirius XM Radio CEO Mel Karmazin and the heads of Google (Sergey Brin, Larry Page and Eric Schmidt), Karmazin told them their company was “fucking with the magic” of advertising. Google has come along and told advertisers that they only have to pay if someone clicks on the ads. Additionally, they can tell advertisers where these people are from, what their other tastes are, etc. The shift away from news delivered in paper is inevitable. Advertisers do not have any attachment to the medium, it’s just that internet ads don’t have the right level of penetration in the market yet. That will change, though. It’s already changing. The problem is that it is a gradual shift and newspapers can’t move too quickly away from paper before the advertising dollars are ready to follow. As it is, advertising on the Internet pays far less. Businesses have figured out which half is effective.