I continue to ponder over the conundrum that our industry faces today: If content is the true value of media companies, but people do not want to pay to read content, then just HOW VALUABLE is content?

After all, I’d prefer to get a free Ferrari, but demand is going to force me to put out several hundred thousands of dollars for one … money that I don’t currently have because I can’t find a way for you to pay to read me. Maybe if Enzo Ferrari gave away his creations when he first started building them, this might not be a problem for me today…although it certainly would be for Enzo.

But here we are … news is more valuable to people today as ever, yet news companies are slicing their corporate jugular veins just to make ends meet. Where are we going wrong?

As I see it, part of the main problem is two-fold:

1. Many newspapers still consider ink and paper as their main product and are either ignorant or afraid to adjust their models to make content the product, and ink and paper merely a distribution method.

Too many times, I hear and read newspaper executives say they are working toward the future, but do not want to forgo the core product they’ve relied on for hundreds of years. The good news is that you do not have to forgo that core product, because it will still exist. But as long as the newsPAPER is the center of the business model, all so-called innovations will be tied to a product that is slowly dying as its core readership dies. Not to say there will be no newspaper readers after the last Boomer dies, but there will be a lot more people who get their news from somewhere else.

Focusing on content (news, ads, multimedia) as your core product opens eyes to new ventures and innovations that are not reliant on the printing press. New business models and potential revenue streams can be more realized once the innovators focus on how readers want their content, and how best to get it to them.

Which brings us to…

2. The content news orgs bring to readers doesn’t necessarily need to be their own.

Yes, the news org that survives in the new world will own the local market, but, like newspapers of the past, they don’t necessarily need to be everywhere. That’s how AP, UPI, Reuters and other news services filled the gap in those days.

Take a look at Google and Yahoo. Their news services are not built on content
producers, but gather content from others and present them to the customer in a format that meets the criteria the customer asked for. It’s quite efficient and, as we’re finding out, profitable for the search engines.

Now, why can’t a local newspaper provide its own content and deliver it with news from other sources? If it so wrong for me … a reader in suburban Chicago … to sign up with my local newspaper’s news delivery service that brings me morning headlines that they’ve written, plus news and business headlines from places like the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and even the Chicago Tribune?

Most newspapers would say: “No, if you give them news from a competitor, they’ll go there and we’ll lose readers!”

But I argue that I’m too busy to visit 8 to 10 websites a day and read them thoroughly. If you give me the news I want. I could care less where the news originated from … even if it is a competing publication. And, it it’s focused enough that I’m not throwing out “sounds like” stories (like I constantly do with my Yahoo and Google feeds), then I might be willing to pay for this service

To me, creating a personal news service that would be more focused in its search criteria that Yahoo or Google would be something worth paying for. And, in effect, is that not what I’m doing with newspapers right now? Are I not paying for someone to drop a collection of news stories and ads (though not necessarily chosen by me) on my driveway every morning?

I believe if a news org can develop such an aggregator system that is more sharply focused for the reader than Yahoo or Google, it would be of value to many folks out there….they could be willing to pay for it in the same way they pay for a ink and paper copy today.

So to recap, two industry taboos must be overcome 1. Content, not paper, is the core product to build new revenue streams from, and 2. Recognizing the competition will drive readers away from you and toward them.

Finally, revenue will come from the delivery of content, and not the content itself. And that will happen only if you build a delivery system that readers will be willing to pay for. Which, despite our follies of the past, can still be realized.

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