Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Thinking digital first means being a launching machine; the special section needs to move to digital platforms

When I was growing up in the Detroit area, sports championships were a once in a lifetime occurrence. My Tigers won in 1968, but we had to endure a riot the year before as part of the deal. The Lions had Milt Plum at quarterback, and if you don't quite remember the name, well that's part of the problem (though, he really was a pretty good QB).

The East Coast has the Yankees, and the West Coast has the Dodgers, so when I moved west the local teams were, I guess, in a different league. In the years I live in L.A. we had World Series, Super Bowl and NBA championships (though we needed to steal the Raiders to get that Super Bowl win). After I moved to the Bay Area watching the 49ers win Super Bowls was almost to be expected.
I worked in newspapers at the time and after each championship was the inevitable championship commemorative special section – there was one produced before the event, as well. It was easy money, all the advertisers wanted to be part of it. I'd get calls from angry clients complaining that their rep didn't call them about the section. I'd ask the rep about it and they'd say that they did, indeed, call, but they wouldn't respond. Usually the client admitted their mistake and said it wouldn't happen again. That was all good and well except that those championship sections were hard to budget for.

I remember going into budget sessions and management would ask me why I wasn't budgeting for a 15 percent gain in January or February? I'd say that we won the Super Bowl and did a section in that month. So do it again this year, they'd respond. Sure, you can guarantee me another Super Bowl win? Newspaper managers, you can't reason with them.

Every year Sports Illustrated creates a commemorative special section to sell to fans of the winning sports team. It's easy money as they can sell it at a high cover price.

I know the Chronicle is planning to publish a commemorative book about the 2012 San Francisco Giants' championship season, featuring the work of its beat writers and photographers.

But we are now in the age of mobile and tablet publishing. One can create a section on a property's website for news about a World Series or Super Bowl win, but it's not the same as a printed special edition. But you can see where I'm going, I hope.

Will we see the San Francisco Chronicle produce a paid app for the Giants World Series win? Are they set up to fire off a new paid tablet edition? Will "A Return to the Pinnacle", the name of that planned commemorative book, appear as an eBook or special app?

There are exactly eight newspaper iPad apps from Hearst Newspapers currently in the Apple App Store, the only one of which in any way resembles the printed special section is the recently released 49ers Insider. I praised that app because I felt it was what good old fashioned (read: profitable) newspapers used to do and should do now.

I look forward to seeing the Giants World Series commemorative special iPad edition, priced to sell, and filled with ads from local merchants who want to be part of the celebration. That is what profitable newspapers do, and I'm sure the management at the Chronicle or Hearst Newspapers wouldn't let a great opportunity pass them by, right?

By the way, the victory parade starts at 11AM PDT today – light posting ahead!