Thursday, September 2, 2010

Talking an old fashioned approach to New Media, newspapers remain hesitant to announce new apps

Back in the days when print newspapers used to compete head-on with another local newspaper, publishers were always tight lipped about their plans to launch new sections, or new features. But they word would get out anyway because their sales teams would be all over town spreading the word, selling ads.

Today, most newspaper staff members have no clue when their own paper will launch a new mobile or tablet app. Tight lipped execs apparently think that letting the competition know they are about to launch an app will somehow be self-defeating. It is a hilarious remnant of a by-gone era -- as if it were possible for a paper to get wind of another's plan for an app and then would be able to quickly develop their own.

This story, written by Michael Calderone, as well as interviews I've conducted with several newspaper managers brought this to the forefront. According to the Calderone story, the Washington Post is set to launch an iPad app in "the coming weeks". The app is described as "highly anticipated" (his quotes are in the original). I don't know if Calderone was being snarky or not, but describing anything the Post does in mobile of tablet as "highly anticipated" would have to be satire.

The Washington Post company has been late to the mobile game, having released its first iPhone app in early March of this year, and no iPad app appeared for Newsweek until the property was about to be sold.

But the real issue here is that just like the web, much of the early efforts in mobile and tablet magazines are being done in the dark, without the full participate of the staffs -- editorial and sales.

One reason for this is fear -- fear that advertisers have lost interest in their products. I know from experience that it used to be the case that either I, or when I was in management, one of my reps were go out and talk to advertisers about new products. If the advertiser was excited the rep might get a commitment to participate right there and then. Then the rep would report back and the project would get going in earnest, knowing that there would be ad support. What used to be the best way to create a new section? Sell out the back page position right at the start.

Now apps are created without ads, and without the staff even knowing the thing is coming down the pike. I just don't see the business strategy of this approach.