If newspaper executives were students, most would probably be held back a year for failing Marketing 101. Determined to launch paywalls to gain digital subscription revenue, most newspapers go about the launch in typical newspaper fashion – without any marketing savvy whatsoever.
Many, like The Globe and Mail, vaguely promise better journalism, though without any details. Others, like The Chicago Tribune, simply say that it is about time they started charging, and besides, you bums, you've been getting something for nothing, so pay up.
If there is on class newspaper executives will get an "A" in, it's in Insulting the Customer.
Today's announcement by The Tribune followed all the now clichéd ways a paper announces its new paywall. The report mentioned the New York Times, of course. But it also mentioned other area newspapers, as well. If they are doing it, we'll do it. As if leadership in news is, in fact, following others.
So how should a newspaper announce a paywall?
Well, forget about trying to convince readers that they have been freeloaders and now it is time to pay up. It is pretty self evident that this is not a great strategy (who the hell edited that Trib story?).
Newspapers have every right to charge for their content. Instead of sheepishly insulting their current readers, they need to do the one thing they have not been good at for a while: selling.
Giving the reader things is easy. The Trib, for instance, recently launched a new tablet magazine for their Bears coverage. The digital magazine requires a paid subscription – include it in their digital subscription package.
The Trib also has a digital magazine for the Bulls, but that one is free. Oops, caught not planning ahead. This should have had a price tag on it if launching a paywall was in the works.
Many newspapers announce paywalls and promise vague additions sometime down the road. Today would have been a good time to launch a new mobile or tablet app, new websites, blogs and other digital products – things that will show the customer that paying for a subscription has real and new benefits.
The Tribune has been declining in importance in the Chicago area for a while. Like many other regional newspapers, it is seen as less necessary for local readers who can get news and advertising online and through local products.
The Tribune, which politically has been Arizona Red for decades, is in a very Blue city, in a somewhat Blue state. It is, almost by definition, out of step with its surroundings. But in the past this didin't matter, newspapers dominated in ways they simply can't today.
But the Trib, as the publisher, not the paper, can still build and launch products that readers will want. Give them more of this. Then sell them on the idea that their paid subscription has real value, that it isn't simply the attempts of some corporate suit to raise revenue and reverse a previous bad decision (of launching their website free).
Newspapers are products just like laundry detergent: they, too need to be sold, to be differentiated from the competition. Many brands hide price increases by slightly increasing the size of their box and contents – you may be getting more, but you're paying for it, too.
But at least there is an effort to deliver more. The Globe and Mail and the Tribune are taking away content for their readers and failing to deliver more. It's bad marketing.