Monday, April 1, 2013

'Opening Day' sales effort may be surest sign of an impending 'closing day' for one metro newspaper

This Sunday the Chicago Tribune managed to do something that I would have thought absolutely impossible just a few years ago: they published a baseball season preview for the Cubs and White Sox that was complete devoid of advertising.

On Friday I ended the week of posts with a look at the update of the MLB At Bat app. I also wrote about the fact that few newspapers have begun experimenting with mobile and tablets as vehicles for their special sections. Just two years ago there were signs that a few papers were moving in this direction, but a few experiments is all we saw.

Twenty years ago the excuse some newspapers executives would make for not creating new products is that the money brought in from the traditional special section was too great to risk diluting through introducing a digital component. The phrase used by a lot of newspaper guys was "switch business" – as in they didn't want to see any switch business, ads that simply were moved from one place to another. They wanted new dollars to be coming in. On Sunday I was anxious to see if the leading metro paper here, the Trib, would take still have the ability to produce a cash cow of a section – after all, this is a sports mad town with not one, but two major league teams. How hard could be it?

Well, I got my answer when I asked my wife to look at the section (I was busy reading the International Herald Tribune on my iPad). She laughed and they exclaimed "there's not a single damn ad in here?" She was a former newspaper ad sales person herself, and still remembers selling those baseball sections.

Now I have to wonder just how low the sales price for the Chicago Tribune might end up being. You can be sure that baseball section won't be included in the banker's black book as proof of the paper's value. I think a good Kickstarter campaign should be all that's necessary to rustle up the funds to buy the venerable old newspaper property now. So, brother, can you spare a dime?