Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Spanish Linkquisition

The estimable Juan Antonio Giner was in Spain recently, and he noted a phenomenon of the Spanish press: Lots of pages!

Juan believes the print newspaper of the future needs to be smaller and not filled with stuff that's just taking up space, because people don't have time to read titanic newspapers. His wonderful work with Eleftherios Typos in Athens should be a model for someone in this country (San Francisco Chronicle, are you out there?)

While I agree largely with Juan's point, at this point in history, any place with fat newspapers looks good to me. Viva Madrid! (And if you're going there, check out a great department store success story, El Corte Ingles.)

But here is a broader point: Among the things outside of our own borders Americans are woefully ignorant about is what newspapers are doing elsewhere. Western Europe and Japan and Korea and Australia are affluent, wired nations. Newspapers face challenges there too. Somehow they do not seem to be falling over the same cliff. (Maybe they are falling over their own, different cliffs.) I remember seeing a recent copy of the Sydney Morning Herald and finding in it a 100-page real-estate magazine with two pages of color ads on each development or property. They sell real estate online in Australia, too. The Herald seems to understand that you can't compete with free online just by offering non-free not-as-good-but-it-worked-in-1970 offline. You have to do better.

Can we learn from newspapers in a country such as England that never were as dependent on classified advertising as we were and thus never built American-size staffs? Can we learn from newspapers in a country such as India how to reach people we do not now reach? Should we reflect on the fact that people from overseas who come here often note that the U.S. has the highest standards of reporting and the most boring newspapers they encounter?

Well, yeah, but we don't do this very much. I love Juan's blog because he looks at the world. Publishers around the world are all in a challenging environment, but some are doing a lot better than we do. One lesson of the 21st century is that America no longer has all the best answers by itself.

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