On the face of it, the problems facing newspapers is not that complex to understand. The business model is broken because the product we’re selling (newspapers) costs more than the price we’re selling it at.
So there are a couple of ways of going about this. One, as suggested by Poynter’s Rick Edmonds, is to increase the price of newspapers to cover more of the costs of producing it.
True, the American “penny press” has been the standard for more than 100 years. But will newspaper readers be willing to pick up a paper at $2 to $4 a copy, or more? Yes, the Brits and Europeans have no trouble with this, but they have also lived with $6 to $8 a litre gas for a long time.
Given the current state of the economy … and the average age of newspaper readers (55), I think they would be more willing to give up their subscriptions for another bag or two of groceries … or another gallon of gas.
What publishers need to do is to refocus the product they offer. Too many papers now are looking at the Internet and new technologies as offshoots of the core newspaper product. Unfortunately, they are tying their future to the product that is in trouble. And it’s understandable why they still think this way. They have hundreds of millions invested in capital (press, sorters, buildings, trucks, etc.). It’s hard not to look at all that and say “I can’t stay focused on print anymore.”
But publishers need to adjust their thinking on their core product. The value of newspapers in not the paper, but the words, images, and ads that are contained in it. That is content that can be sliced, diced and delivered to customers in shapes and forms that they demand, and when they demand it. Newspapers are still a part of overall plan, but they can no longer be the major focus. Instead of being the core product, newspapers become one of many ways the product can be given to our customers.
On other words, newspapers need to become more “News” and less “Paper.”
I’ll get more into my vision of this evolution next week.