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Thought Experiment # 1: Don’t suck, newspapers!

When I search twitter using the tag, #newspaper or just newspapers, I often see postings slamming newspapers as relics of a by-gone era, and irrelevant given the emergence of social media and user generated content. Clearly, there are those that still enjoy what newspapers offer, but a growing group, and I suspect a younger group, are saying things like:

From Twitter: @ToughLovetorX said: “@spirospiliadis the thing that really gets me is all the whining from newspapers about the end of the world, when so many of them suck.”

Does this tweet  articulate the crux of the issue for many web savvy readers?  Do Newspapers tend to suck compared to the emerging alternatives?  Does it have to be this way?  Are people too quick to write off the poor old newspaper?

And if so, what does the newspaper industry have to do to gain relevance and acceptance in the new digital world?  Thus, begins the first of my  “Thought Experiment” postings.  What would it take for newspapers to suck less?  Here is a few of my thoughts:

  1. Newspapers, if you are serious about competing to get your lost classified dollars back, build a better product!  It is not a good user experience anymore to buy print in order to get the online portion.   The value proposition is with online these days.  The online only classified sites have created a great interface for posting ads.  Within minutes, you can create a listing, upload multiple images and post your listing.   The savvy sites offer the basic listing for free and then add real value upsells.  And, almost as fast as you can post, you can start getting queries and responses to your listing.  Unfortunately, newspapers are restrained by protecting their print dollars, following strict rules for what ads get posted and how they are worded (oddly, this used to be their strength), and their aging, more affluent, audiences are not creating enough responses to justify the costs of paid classified ads. Once the print ad is gone, the online ad disappears as well.  So change you model.  (And, as a side note, starting auction sites will not recover your lost classified revenues)
  2. Find a way to place nice with the community bloggers.  They don’t have to be your enemies. In fact, instead of continually playing the professional journalist versus amateur blogger card, figure out a way to be the face of local.  Connect with existing bloggers and  find print and online space showcase their best comments.  Identify community leaders and encourage them to use your tools to start their own blogs. Own all local.  That is what will differentiate a local newspaper over the long term.
  3. Newspapers, your audiences are not passive anymore.  They are actively participating in online communities.  They are creating content.  They are sharing content.  They involved in on-going conversations that likely don’t include you.  Embrace the social media channels.  Experiment to find out where your audience is and what they are talking about.  Don’t just create automated feeds to your facebook and and twitter channels of the same content you created for your print and online products.  These channels are not about broadcasting.  They are about building relationships, trust, and dialogue.

Okay, so there are three things I think will make newspapers suck less.  What are your suggestions?

Can an Auction replace Newspaper Classifieds?

I was reading an article from MediaPost, today.  Several U.S. newspapers and Broadcast News sites have come together to create Boocoo.com, an auction and listing site.  Their goal is to take back (or at least stop further losses)  the revenues lost to Craig’s List and eBay.   Read the article for yourself here:

MediaPost: Newspapers Unveil Auction Site, Boocoo.com
http://bit.ly/bTHqYB

My first thought on this is one of confusion.  Newspapers and Broadcast News sites are essentially getting into the Auction business.   They are planning to go outside of their core business to start a new business to compete with a business that does auctions as their primary function.  Huh?  Confused?  Me too, a little.  This can’t end well for the newspapers.  While they are using up valuable resources to create and operate this new business, are they turning their backs on better revenue opportunities?  But let’s come back to that point.

To me, there is an interesting paradox here.  The newspapers are trying to compete with the very companies that devalued their classified business to almost no value.  The real trick with Kujiji and Craig’s Lists (and other sites) is that they exploited the low costs of publishing online and created a better product than the newspapers high cost print classified ads.   The newspapers could have responded in kind and created their own free classifieds (some newspapers actually did) sites, but that would have meant immediately sacrificing millions of dollars in existing print classifieds revenue.  Most, however, didn’t and that has led to a fairly fast and painful decline in print classified revenues.   Conversely, the free online classified site gained a much larger new classified audience of buyers and sellers.  Partly, they gained because of the price (free!), but mostly,  believe they created a better product.  Buying and selling “stuff” is a generally great user experience.  The new classified companies innovated and created a better product and gained a sizable market share in a short period of time.

Now back to the plans of the Newspapers and broadcast news sites to create a new auction business to stem the loss of revenues to companies who do classifieds better.  I have read about their plans to introduce competitive pricing.  I have read that all the participating newspapers have agreed to promote the new site.  This is a very common newspaper strategy for bringing a new product to market.  What I am missing is:

  1. What makes this product better than what is already there?
  2. Where is the innovation?
  3. Why will clients want this new product instead of the products that already exist?
  4. And really, how does this stop, or even slow, the migration of classified ad dollars to the online classified companies.  Those sites  are still providing fundamentally better classifieds product that will still be attracting customers in droves.
  5. And finally, I will ask again.  If newspapers jump into the auction business with sufficient resources to compete with full-time auction businesses, what core opportunities will not get explored as a result?

To be clear, I have set-up and run event style auctions for newspapers in the past .  I understand their value proposition and their potential revenue.    But, I see BooCoo.com as a fundamentally different strategy for more obscure reasons.  As one of the commenters at the end of this story said:

Are you sure the name isn’t Boohoo ?”

I guess I’m not the only one still a little confused by this strategy.  How about  you?

My blog has to begin somewhere….

I have had many reasons to think about the role new media is playing within and around Old Media — particularly newspapers — over the past 10 years. Newspapers were kind of “Social Media 0.5”. Until about 10 years ago, newspapers were pretty much the only voice in the average community.

Now, the cost of publishing has decreased to nearly zero. These days, virtually, anyone can step up to the digital soapbox and start speaking. And, what’s more astounding there a simple, but effective, ways to build an audience for just about any message.

Most newspapers spent quite a few years trying to avoid the impact this social media was having on their business model and their subscribers. In the coming years, newspapers will need to embrace completely new (to them) ways of listening and talking to their audiences.

As many have speculated, some newspaper may die off in the near future. But not all will go away. Some will embrace the new opportunities and will figure out how to adjust their business model accordingly. With growing examples, like the Huffington Post, showing how journalism, UGC, and news aggregation can co-exist and flourish.   Interesting times for the poor old newspapers.

I have an interest in exploring how the best and worst in newspapers make that transition (or don’t).

If you listen to some of the chatter on Twitter these days, one would think that there is no role for newspapers in the future world.   Clearly, classified sites like Kijiji and Craig’s List have taken a big chunk out of newspaper revenues.  Do you believe that citizen journalism will do likewise to traditional journalists?  What is, or should be,  the newspaper game plan (Newspaper 1.0) going forward ? And, what should the future newspaper (Newspaper 2.0) look like ?  Huh?!  Some many questions and so few answers.  This was a good idea for a blog.

What are your thoughts on the subject?  I look forward to our conversation.