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Lauren Rich Fine: Saving Newspapers By Pushing Readers Online

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imageOver the last six months, we have noted several newspapers that have decided not to print one or two days a week. Then last week’s news that the Christian Science Monitor would cease daily publication and become a weekly. And now, U.S. News and World Report is going monthly. This is bad. This is good.

The bad news is pretty obvious: Advertising is down in just about every medium and major ad category. While circulation and subscriptions might also be down, they are less critical to the near-term economics although symptomatic of the longer-term challenges the print news industry faces.

The good news? Some powerful national brands are trying to push consumers online. If the goal is to preserve quality journalism, diversity of views, investigative reporting and the like, something radical has to happen. Eliminating distribution, production and paper costs virtually reduces the costs to what is essential, the voice. However, while traffic is up at most news sites and newspapers can claim their fair share, something is still getting lost in the translation. The amount of time spent on these sites is well below the time believed to have been spent in the print counterpart. If major brands push consumers online more heavily — i.e. it’s this or nothing — there might really be a business there. Increased time spent on a site should result in more ad impressions. If enough publications really push, maybe others will be brave enough to follow. Maybe more advertisers will take notice and join them. This could be good. It could add years to papers’ respective lives.

Lauren has also written two briefing notes, which you can request here: Latest Online Ad Forecasts | Online Fantasy Sports

Photo Credit: katmere

6 Responses to “Lauren Rich Fine: Saving Newspapers By Pushing Readers Online”

  1. From an advertiser's point of view (as a real estate brokerage owner), I can say that it is a matter of perception. While the return seems to be the same from both online and print sources; perception is driving the real estate industry away from the print advertising. I am sure similar examples apply to other industry sectors.

  2. Perhaps the title should be Saving Advertisers not newspapers. As noted in the piece, circulation and subscription are less down than advertising is. A better strategy, therefore, would be to "push readers" to pay for online publications, pay-as-you-read options and such. Or perhaps, has turned into ;)

  3. Not bad advice, but the heavy emphasis on "pull" strategy is not going to get a media company where it needs to go circa 2009. (Five or ten years ago maybe…) Rather, the focus should be on a well-rounded approach: a healthy combination of smart and efficient "pull" (via SEM, creative partnering, etc.) and a very aggressive and clever "push" plan via mobile apps, desktop apps, widgets, etc.

    The trick is to deliver your content/message/programming on ANY platform and in any environment the customer chooses. And right now with the smart phone tidal wave coming ashore, mobile is quickly becoming the most critical battleground–and for newspapers and magazines, perhaps an even bigger opportunity than traditional web sites.

  4. Why would the Times, for instance, eliminate most of its revenue? Are print and delivery costs really so high?

    Speaking as someone whose job is helping print organizations do better online, even I wouldn't recommend this course of action. Why hasten the death of the golden goose?

    Yes, at some point it will make sense for more outlets to stop making a paper product. But that threshold will be different for each and every one of them — and for some of them that day may be much further in the future than you might imagine. Many monthly magazines, for instance, are doing just fine, considering.

  5. Pardon the dupe-post from Mark Potts' blog as well.

    I agree that having both options (print daily and online) makes it harder to push advertisers to a better digital solution. I'm going to dig a little deeper on this later today when I have the time, but I wonder whether the optimal mix for a mid-sized metro market might be:

    – A free daily tab, with a light gloss on the news. Much like DC's Express or Redeye or b in Baltimore. Keep the page-count capped to build scarcity-pricing for any available print ads.

    – A weekly local summary and analysis of news and trends. Think Newsweek on a local level, either on broadsheet or magazine. Written for the people who want a more substantial print offering. Big question: How to carry the advertising circulars and inserts, which remain a substantial revenue source for local markets.

    – An aggressively staffed and updated 24/7 digital news operation, optimized for mobile, web and syndication to other media in town (TV/radio).