Thursday, September 3, 2009

What If...

Stop what you're doing and read this post by Howard Owens if you've ever wondered why newspapers, so much more than any other medium disrupted by the Web, have presented matters as Their Imminent Demise, while TV and radio and magazines have also lost readers and business to the Web but tend not to talk about it so much.

I was thinking earlier today: Is it just newspapers' tendency to see the worst, or is it newspaper journalists thinking that in order to be fair, we must publicly flagellate ourselves? Owens has a better answer: Newspapers saw online as just another way to publish newspapers. (Radio, TV, etc., which moved into online more slowly, did so because they saw it as a threat. Newspapers saw it as higher-profit nirvana.) But newspapers' objective was to use online to support the "mother ship" -- the newspaper business as it had been known and grown up, with all the divisions and add-ons that came from print's profit margins. And that, of course, has proven to be a fatal error.

Owens presents this largely as an advertising revenue problem -- which it is -- but notes:

"Throughout the history of newspapers online, there has simply been a lot of thinking that there isn't much different between the Web and print.

"It's understandable. The Web, especially in the early days, is a text-dominated medium. The natural response is to think editors could simply move print stories into pixels and be done with it. ... If publishers thought the Web was no different for content, how could they possibly be expected to see online sales were different, too?"

His answer -- which stands the last five years on its head, but I agree with him -- is that online should have been set up from the start as a separate business unit.

"So ... if newspapers had created more totally separate business units, would newspapers be 'saved' today?

"I don't know.

"The strategy could have hastened their demise, but I think you can also make the case that by letting newspapers be newspapers, and keeping online far away, you would have had fewer readers dropping subscriptions in favor of free online content. Maybe. Maybe the online competitor would have been seen by readers as just another media outlet, not a replacement for the newspaper."

Boldface mine. Of course, publishers, whose essential aim is to not have competition, probably would never have gone for it. They would have seen it as competing with themselves. But since what we have now is, as Dominic Toretta said after hitting the truck at the end of "The Fast and the Furious," not exactly what we had in mind, think about it from Owens' view. If the Daily Reflector-Cotillion had not viewed online as a way to publish the Daily Reflector-Cotillion with no printing expenses -- thus seeming to guarantee itself 50 percent profit margins forever -- but had viewed it the way newspaper companies viewed radio and TV when they first came out, as a medium with its own rules and challenges and for which content should be developed differently -- would the Daily Reflector-Cotillion be so shunned in print? Or would it have a profitable DRC and a profitable, much smaller, Mytown Online?

As Owens says, you can't tell. But at least you would never have had people saying, "Why should I pay you when you give the same stuff away?" -- which, though they come at it from different angles, Owens and Alan Mutter essentially agree is the Original Sin. Perhaps the answer is not pay walls after all, but -- let newspapers be newspapers.


Howard Owens said...

Nice take on my post. Thank you.

rknil said...

Howard Owens has failed at every stop.

I'm not sure why people keep giving him credibility, but I assume it's because they're not very bright or analytical.

Howard Owens said...

I'm not sure I should give an anonymous (since you never reveal who you really are) attack any credibility, but I've grown revenue at every stop, lead teams that won an ONA General Excellence Award, a Inland Press Association GE Award, and numerous other industry awards. Every site I've ever run has never failed to grow revenue and grow audience. What have you done, except attack people and just be an all-aaround jerk at every stop you make on the Web, Wenalway?

rknil said...

You grew revenue at Gatehouse, a company whose stock is practically worthless?

I'd like to hear the story behind that one and see the proof.

Howard Owens said...

I didn't have direct revenue responsibility at GHM. But online revenue grew tremendously while I was there. It's all in the publicly available reports.

rknil said...

Lies, damn lies, and statistics, my friend.

Grew tremendously from what point? Inception to now? Before any newspaper had an online presence to now?

We are seeing the full-on Howie Owens magic here. Of course, anyone who has failed at every stop and yet still blathers incessantly about what newspapers should do and somehow still gets cred must have a way with words. Just not with facts.

Let us know, Howie, about these great successes you claim to have inspired.

Howard Owens said...

Go read it for yourself. These are legally binding reports. Public record. Filed with and required by the SEC with penalties for false reports.

But Wenalway, you're just an anonymous troll. That's well known. I shouldn't even respond to you. Your credibility is nil throughout the industry and you ain't done a damn thing your entire life except pop off. You repeatedly demonstrate that you no nothing of business, nothing of the newspaper industry and nothing about online.

Keep getting your jollies out of trolling, but you have no credibility. The only thing you do is attack people who have been out actually doing things, trying things and getting work done.

I think they call that jealousy.

Howard Owens said...

correction: "know nothing"

rknil said...

Be sure to let us know what you have done for the industry. Your last company tanked, and now the stock is virtually worthless. It doesn't seem as if your myriad suggestions about what newspapers should do amount to a hill of beans.

You're pretty good at acting as if you know something -- I'll give you that. But I'm not sure you could organize a two-car parade without messing it up.

I've given you several opportunities to cite specifics. You have yet to do so.

Epic fail -- the usual fare from Howard Owens.

Howard Owens said...

I've cited specifics. You're just trolling.

rknil said...

Says someone who used YouTube as his company's video host.

Why not tell us what GateHouse's stock value was when you started, and what it was when you slithered away in disgrace?

The court awaits your answer ...