No background needed here. We’ve all heard the clichés used like “deaths throws” “writing on the wall” and “doomed” when describing the current state of our country’s newspaper industry. There has been a good deal of discussion about why it happening, and what the future is going to look like for the newspaper industry (assuming you think there is a future).
Talk is great, but I wanted to take it a step further and use an actual example with real solutions. So I decided to use The Daily Oklahoman, a paper that I know very well.
A few starting points. The Oklahoman is the largest newspaper in the state, and in truth, The Oklahoman is implementing some limited takes on what I discuss below, although not all and not strategically. So I’m going to lay the groundwork for some ideas that could change the business model of the paper and keep them in the black for years to come.
Step 1: Online
Online presence. This is obvious, but it can’t be stressed enough. The newspaper must begin to think of themselves as a website and many already are. That is where their future is going, or maybe already is. The idea of free content online is madness, but newspapers seem to think that they already established themselves online as providers of free content and are therefore committed to doing so indefinitely, and it has to stop. Some of the best news websites available online have realized this and put a stop to the bleeding. And the format is surprisingly simple.
The Wall Street Journal and ESPN come to mind when I think about the right way to provide online news content. They provide a limited amount of basic content for free and charge for more extensive content.
Here’s how it works for newspapers: Hard new is free. Editorials, Op Eds, in depth content and columns are premium services. People will pay for this, and with sites like WSJ and ESPN, they already are. The hard news is what brings them in, and its fairly easy to obtain by other sources, but emphasis on quality premium content will drive subscriptions.
Step 2: Snail Mail
The biggest argument to moving online comes from those who say, rightfully so, that many people are not online or may even prefer the print version of the news. The solution to this requires some concessions. The idea of the “daily” newspaper needs to be rethought. Even the oldest generation of Americans have now spent the majority of their lives with television, and for the majority of Americans of all ages the television is the source for breaking news. In many ways television is the perfect medium for daily news. Its accepted, there’s no learning curve and the ad revenue is already there.
All of that means that newspapers would be wise to stop daily publication and focus on weekly editions that diverge from the day-to-day goings ons that are available through other mediums. This allows for one other huge money saving advantage: Mail. That’s right, with a format that doesn’t stress timeliness newspapers no longer have to spend huge amounts of money delivering and incorporating other logistical considerations, just package and send.
Step 3: Small Town
Getting the The Oklahoman by mail is great if your from the metro area, but what about smaller towns with smaller newspapers, those are the papers that are hardest hit. Their solution is simple, if hard to swallow.
In a short space, the larger and better funded newspapers must begin to incorporate the small town papers into their machine. This is done in a couple strategic ways.
First, when a person begins their initial subscription to the larger NewsOK site, they have an option to incorporate other small towns news into their subscription. In this way, you can live in a smaller area like Chickasaw, and still receive your local news via the larger NewsOK site. Additionally, those individuals who are receiving the now snail mailed print newspaper will receive an insert that contains content relevant to their hometown. But the key point is that the smaller newspapers go the way of the dinosaurs, and individuals are charged a fee to receive their local news in addition to the statewide content.
Step 4: Packaging
The simple fact is most readers aren’t reading all the content made available form The Oklahoman. Therefore, newspapers need to take special consideration to the format of their online subscriptions.
When a person begins an online subscription to The Oklahoman they are given several packaging option at different price levels. A sports package, business package, arts and of course a package that includes all the content (and don’t forget the now specialized small town content).
The real genius behind this idea is that it allows the paper to push content strategically based on subscriptions to various parts of the paper. If an overwhelming majority are viewing the sports and business, you can increase content to those areas, thereby increasing page views and ultimately ad revenue.
That was step 1-4 of the plan to breathe new life into the newspaper business. But that’s definitely not where it stops, more are coming! If you have ideas about saving the newspaper industry leave a comment!