It frustrates me to no end to see newspapers try to be “innovative” by relying on old, outdated methods and measures.
Currently, I’ve seen two news organizations try to improve their offerings by polling their readers. Reader surveys are not new, and frankly worked quite well in the past when the paper needed tweaking or freshening up. But, in today’s world, there is a basic flaw with reader surveys: You’re asking people who are already paying for your product. They, in turn, will most likely tell you they like what they’re getting, with maybe a suggestion or two that would improve their experience.
While the concept is right … finding out what customers want … they are going after the wrong crowd. Yes, it’s nice that you are finding out what people who get your newspaper want. But there is a much bigger crowd out there who are not taking your newspaper. Why is that? Isn’t that who you want to tap into right now?
Instead of reader polls, try other sources. One area to look at is online. You have a number of subscribers online who probably comment on news stories. While you probably included a line in your terms of service that their private information would not be sold to third-party vendors, there is certainly nothing wrong with using them to find out if A) they also get your print product and B) if not, why?
I’d also add a C) if you were putting together a news product that met your needs, what would you include and in what form would you use it? Maybe add a D) if you knew of such a product, would you pay for it, and if so, how much?
How many news organizations have asked those questions to non-readers and online readers? My guess is not many. But, as someone with a vested interest in this industry, that is information that would be worth millions in determining what products to create in the future.
American Press Institute has done a wonderful job setting up this basis in its “Newspaper Next” project, under the catchphrase of “Jobs to be Done.” Newspapers need to realize that, in order to gain new readers, they need to talk to those who aren’t customers in order to find ways to get to them.
Don’t neglect your loyal readers … that’s what customer service is for. But they are not going to carry you through the current crisis. News orgs need new customers, and they need to provide exactly what those new customers want.
The only real way to find out is to ask them.