Friday, October 12, 2012

Some newspaper publishers are simply moving beyond the paid/free issue, why can't others?

Reading posts on some media sites is like endlessly watching those annoying Samsung commercials, especially the one where the loser in line to buy an iPhone says "ever have deja, deja, deja, deja vu?" (or something to that effect). They may have a point, but they are so obnoxious and condescending that the point is quickly lost. Yeah, we all get it, the news media should charge. Fine, but guess what? Your argument is so simple that it is meaningless. We've moved on and you are stuck with a one note symphony.

The fact is that not all news products can generate revenue online through paid subscriptions. The newspaper business model has to be more complex and more diversified than that. And some publishers are getting it.

In fact, here in Chicago, to my great surprise, I'm seeing good things. Companies like The Tribune Company and Wrapports, the owner of the Sun-Times, are doing some interesting things, whether oout of a spirit of innovation or out of desperation. Does it matter what their motivation is?

Weeks ago both newspapers launched digital-only magazines for their football coverage, for instance. A very small little step, but an interesting experiment. Why? Because publishers need to become serial launchers if they are to succeed in the digital media world. Forcing one legacy product down the throats of their customers is very cable TV-like, and how happy are cable TV customers?

The Tribune Company has also entered into a deal with Agate Digital to launch a line of eBooks – the first eBooks have now reached the various online bookstores. Again, a small but interesting move towards product diversification.

Newspapers can do more of this, but only if they are as committed to publishing as they are to newspapering.

The stubbornness of newspaper executives is what the outside world counts on:
"Don't migrate classifieds to online because we'll lose revenue."
"OK, we've lost revenue, so let's go ahead and invest in a 3rd party online classified company."
 Etc, etc.

Newspaper publishers want their products to live forever. Readers simply want the news. So as publishers and journalists continue to make the same tired arguments I think I am starting to feel better about things (or maybe its just Friday). Some publishers are starting to get it. It's good to see. As for those media websites and media critics that insist on covering the same ground over and over, well, let them. I gives them something to do.