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February 04, 2010


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Great post, Bill. Great to also see you at #wtengage! I was a database marketer in the newspaper industry for over a decade and honestly feel bad about the industry's slow demise. It didn't need to be that way, though. I was speaking with a local resident of NOLA who was a subscriber to the Times Picayune and he said their circulation was actually up. That's the first newspaper I picked up in years and I was amazed at all the local coverage.

I picked up the newspaper in Indy a few years ago and found 6 articles in the A section that were local. Publishers outside of NOLA continue to cut local staff and resources and 'centralize' efforts to reduce costs. Each time they do, they're actually making it worse. They're cutting the primary value of their product.

I was part of leadership that discussed dynamic printing and insertion of custom sections per household back in the 90's and there was a conscious choice not to do it - not only because of cost but because it meant circulation numbers would have to be reported by section, reducing overall ad revenue (that was the theory). We wanted to micro-target content to the household... but the powers that be were fearful of the change.

We also watched as Craigslist and eBay adopted classifieds to the web. At the time we were floating in 40% profit margins and running our online staffs with small teams of 4 or 5. We knew we were the best local marketplace and if we had invested the money sooner, we could have kept that revenue. However, we didn't want to dip into our monstrous piles of money to do so... so instead we wrote about how eBay and Craigslist were growing leaps and bounds, then blamed them for 'stealing our revenue'.

As for the future, Social Media provides both micro-targeted content, communication, and permission-based marketing. Newspapers still provide the best minds and content in the industry, but until their distribution channels and revenue models are drastically changed, we're going to continue to see them fail. Slapping ads in between articles isn't the value of journalism. Newspapers need to leave their models behind if they have any chance of surviving.

Newspapers could be the editorial giant of the Internet and could let channels pay to utilize their content, access their journalists, and even pay (God forbid) to have stories researched and written for third parties. Newspapers aren't dying because of content - let's make that very clear - they're dying because of their revenue model. Let's fix the revenue model and keep the content alive.


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