Thursday, February 7, 2008

And Let's Acknowledge It's Depressing

When I was in college in Indiana, one of the papers you wanted to work for was the South Bend Tribune. It was, I think, the third largest paper in the state, close to Chicago, and had a reputation as a good employer.

So this is admittedly hard to read.

What's really depressing about it, of course, is the view of: Keep giving me lots of cool stuff free, and, hey, you have my sincere thanks for doing so! The writer says he basically read the print paper for the ads, especially of what might appear to be Best Buy.

But now, all the news is free online, so why should I bother to pay to read it? And by the way, why don't you stop charging me for your archive? I'd really like it if you'd give me that free, too. And I'd really like it if you'd give me free information any time you talk about my employer. And give me the blogs, and the feeds, and oh by the way, that nice column that tells me free what stores might be opening so that I don't have to worry about advertising.

And where is the South Bend Tribune supposed to get the money for providing all this service?

That question, alas, Michael Stephens does not address. Not his concern.

(And by the way, while you're at it, Tribune, why don't you put a box online so we can cancel the paper there? That would make it really convenient.)

The problem is not whether this is the future. The problem is whether there is any sort of business model for newspapers contained herein that allows them to continue to provide the sort of information Mr. Stephens wants.

The real problem is that despite the industry pondering this problem for the last decade, no solution has emerged.

Are we back to the Chinese definition of insanity?

(And now a moment for department store trivia: For South Bend, Robertson Bros. and George Wyman & Co.)


Kang (not the one from The Simpsons) said...

Years ago, someone told me that the home subscription price basically paid for the printing and delivery of the paper, and advertising paid everyone's salary. If that is/was the case, then he was not paying for the articles and other services anyway, just to have it put on paper and carried out to him, which no longer needs to be done.

Davisull said...

He was paying for a subsidized package, admittedly. Ads paid most of the freight. Advertisers wanted the newspaper audience because it was people who said, by paying money, that they wanted the product and therefore presumably paid attention to what was in it.

Certainly there are many free-delivery models -- in print, in broadcast, online. In Europe there are many successful freesheets.

But think about your point for a moment. Advertisers paid everyone's salary. If you unbundle the news from the advertising, who pays the salary of the newsgatherers? If I have oh, 25 RSS feeds and I choose to look at 3 articles from my hometown newspaper, the only shots at ads from that newspaper are on those three pages. How am I, the newspaper owner, going to get enough money from advertisers on that basis to support the operation -- even if you took printing and trucking out of the picture?

The breakdown of proportional revenue is not the real issue. The point is basing a business' future on a customer who says, "Give me everything I want free."

Anonymous said...

Welcome to the wonderful world of blogging.

A small style tip: it's good form to summarize the contents of the article you are discussing.

"So *this* is admittedly hard to read" is vague and doesn't give the reader enough information to understand your blog post, or incentive for them to click through to the article you are discussing.

Writing "Michael Stephens of ALA Tech Source wrote an open letter to the South Bend Tribune, summarizing his reasons for ending his print subscription, and continuing with a laundry list of items he'd like to enjoy for free" ... or something to that effect allows folks to read your post without pausing to have to read Stephens'.

With best regards,

Richard Klicki said...

Depressing, yes...but keep in mind that no one has developed an RSS feed that actually writes stories yet.

We as an industry need to break away from our traditional models and look at our future not in print or online...but in content. Print, online, RSS, etc. and simply methods of delivery. Our value and our future is content.

I still believe that if the public was able to accept the idea of paying for incoming calls on their cell phones, we can find a way to convince them to pay for news, fetaures, photos, listings, multimedia, etc. they want to read.

Clay W. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Davisull said...

To anonymous:

Appreciate the tip. As noted, trying to find my voice; perhaps borrowing too much from Atrios, but also feeling like, well, maybe I was writing too much already.

Clay W. said...

David: Welcome! Great to see you here -- and you aren't wasting time getting down to business.

Your points are taken, but I wonder if there's something missing. Newspapers have traditionally been priced as nearly free anyway. A quarter ain't much.

So the jump from spending pennies for paper to spending nothing online is far easier than spending pennies on paper to spending many dollars online for an up-front subscription.

Also. Because we traditionally count on advertisers to pay our way in the print media, we're not prepared to make a case to consumers that they need to pay up. Instead, we're prepared to offer them three months for $3, or whatever the latest circulation discount is.

The result? Consumers have come to expect free information. The question -- how is that monetized? Can it be?

But anyway, I could blather on. Take care.