Monday, May 12, 2008

A News Day?

Just back from my niece's wedding near Grand Rapids, in honor of which here is the former building of the Herpolsheimer Co., one of America's most unpronounceable department stores (Hochschild Kohn in Baltimore still being the winner as far as I am concerned).

If you saw the movie of "The Polar Express" there is a wonderful scene where the train appears to pass along Monroe Street in front of Herp's and you can see the store name in gold script to the right. Of course if you had no association with Grand Rapids you would just wonder what it meant. Author Chris Van Allsburg is from Grand Rapids.
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And that brings us to the sale of Newsday (no, it doesn't, but I have no good transition here). One has to hope for the best, but these days it's often just hope. The always interesting though increasingly downbeat Alan Mutter writes: "Cablevision’s vision evidently is to develop a holistic advertising sales program that will enable merchants to buy everything from print to cable to Internet from a single representative offering a comprehensive bundle of integrated and interactive services." (I like that phrase "Cablevision's vision.")
Mutter goes on to wonder if that can happen, given the free fall of newspaper revenues, and comes up with ways in which he thinks Murdoch's offer would have made more sense economically -- which are interesting because they relate primarily to print-newspaper marketing and not to a holistic vision. He saw more upside in a Post-Newsday Sunday combination buy, for example, coupled with a joint printing agreement, but as he notes the same thing could have worked for the Daily News. As it is, Cablevision now owns a stand-alone newspaper with a fractional share of the New York metropolitan newspaper market. So all it can do is hope for synergy.
Now for the synergy with this story by Jim Chisholm of Newspapers & Technology. He notes about advertising:
The downward trend in newspaper advertising "has been accelerated by the absurdity of upselling and encouraging converged advertising sales. .... By forcing salespeople to sell print and online together we are encouraging them to focus on the few advertisers who need or wish to buy both together, at the expense of the others.

"Our experience demonstrates that by simply encouraging salespeople to end the month with more advertisers than when the month began, and by compensating them appropriately, the rot can be stopped.

"This habit of replacing loss by selling more space at a higher price to fewer advertisers can no longer be supported. Increasing ad rates has forced smaller companies to look elsewhere. Selling bigger and more frequent insertions has not resulted in advertisers getting a proportionately better ROI.

"Today, as the Web becomes an increasingly significant part of the revenue mix — and more importantly, an important contributor to potential profit and value — it is vital that we revisit these smaller lapsed advertisers.

"We can certainly woo these companies to buy space online, but we also should encourage them back into print, either in the main product or perhaps a niche product."
Will Cablevision assume that its only customers are those who want to buy cable, print and online together? Or will its salespeople simply fall into that default mode? Here, only time will tell. The Harbinger assault on Media General asked for the sale of the Tampa operation that was one of the first and most heralded sites of convergence (a term less used these days). That may be more related to Florida real estate than anything else, but it was interesting.
Is any of this stuff going to be the much-awaited big score, or is it simply that in a more competitive world nothing will ever replace the $1,000-an-inch Sunday help wanted ad, and we should stop looking for the big score and get used to slogging it out in the trenches?

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