I had a newspaper subscription once -- to the Austin American Statesman -- not because of the editorial or the aesthetic (the Statesman was a running joke around campus at the time) but because the kid who showed up to sell me the subscription looked like hell and I felt sorry for him -- $100 worth of sorry.
Day after day, the newspaper came. And day after day, I read news online. I didn't even bother to peel the paper out of its usually damp plastic wrapper. When neighbors started to complain about the pile of papers outside my door, I started tossing the papers on my balcony. The pile grew and grew. When company came over, I shoveled the papers into my storage closet. And when I finally moved out, I found my papers had at least been used by someone -- a nest of rats had made a lovely little home for the winter.
*You're looking at a digital newsstand created by Scott Walker.
This has been a topic bubbling up to the top of my mind recently, with Google and Yahoo partnering with papers to sell ads , the Trib running matress man ads on the front page, Scoble declaring newspapers dead, and every industry 'expert' giving their advice on how to survive on the net. But still, it seems that the core dilemma isn't being addressed.
First, the NEWS isn't dead:
The Size of Media's Audience: (source)
Print's audience is dwindling, but it's online audience is soaring. Obviously, the audience is just shifting ...
So what's the problem?
Well, the problem is that print ad revenues make up close to 70%-80% of a paper's total revenue, while online contributes only about 6% today. Online advertising revenue has been growing at a fantastic rate, 20%-30% a year in some cases, but every year the audience is shifting to a less profitable medium for newspaper companies. The question may not be how to survive the long term shift, but how to survive this short term profit loss.
(sources: mediapost, nytimes)
If that's the case, selling ads on the front page may not be a terrible idea in the short term -- to cover the cost of the shifting audience until online ads mature. But it's a solution for the most optimistic outcome -- an outcome that predicts:
- every print reader will move online -- this isn't going to happen. Every year the average age of a print reader gets older and younger readers just aren't there to slow this trend.
- every print reader will remain loyal, a Chicago Tribune daily reader will log on to chicagotribune.com -- ha, good luck, have you ever heard of news aggregation, rss readers or digg?
- online ad revenue will grow to match print revenue, quickly -- fat chance, especially if the first two don't come true.
Junking up the paper with more ads is a slippery slope, especially in a world judged in objectivity -- what's next, the Chicago Tribune, sponsored by Nike? Instead of bullet points - swooshes, instead of plastic wrap - shoe strings, instead of real news - game highlights and the performance enhancing quality of mesh shorts?
This is your chance -- don't let it pass. This is the opportunity for the shakeup that old media needs -- a chance to become leaner, to become more efficient, and a chance to win market share on fertile new ground. Win on local content -- local politics, local government, local arts and local events -- foster local communities, offer free dailies and host local events.
Print isn't dead -- but the old ways of doing business are definitely on the endangered species list.