Misplaced values

Imagine General Motors bringing out an ad campaign that essentially says “remember those days you and your family would drive to the countryside in your Hummer? The fun?  The feeling of security as you drove in your steel-clad, gas-guzzling behemoth? Sure there are other, more efficient, green and safe vehicles out there today, but you can still get those feelings with a Hummer, so get rid of your Prius and buy one today.”

I get a similar impression as I read a series of editorials from my local newspaper touting “the value of newspapers.” (Here’s the most recent editorial which, ironically, you can find online). Give them credit for trying to sell the “value” of newspapers. Unfortunately, the value isn’t necessarily in the yellowed ink-on-paper example cited in the editorial, but the words or image that is captured on that medium.

In this particular example, it mentions finding a newspaper clipping in a scrapbook. I’d bet if we look at that same scrapbook, we’d find an old film photo (or, for some of us, an old Polaroid photo), also yellowed with age. The old photos bring back wonderful memories, but it’s the image, not the format, that we value.

Today, scrapbooks are more likely to be found in the form of albums posted on Facebook or numerous sharing sites like Flickr or Picasa. Likewise, Facebook and blogs are becoming the new refrigerator door as links, photos and passages of one’s personal and family history are held up to the world (or the world that the originator allows to enter).

And, if we need hard copies of that history, we can choose to run it out on our own printers.

These editorials, while noble, continue to show that some newspapers still don’t get it. The core product — the value — is in the content a newspaper (or any news organization) generates, not the ink-and-paper part. Instead of waxing nostalgic and hoping to shame a nation back into reading patterns of a half-century ago, newspapers should be redefining themselves to develop and sell content that is of value to the individual reader, not the mass audience.

Why, for example, aren’t more newspaper looking at modifying Amazon’s system of tracking customer patterns and making recommendations that might be of interest to them? Why not take that another step and develop a product that uses that model to deliver a personalized news product to a reader, on the platform he prefers, at a time that best suits his schedule? And, why not charge a subscription for that?

Why not use that information to develop laser-like audience targeting for advertisers? Why not help advertisers get their messages out through social networking as well as in print and online?  Why not provide advertisers with data that can help them support or modify their campaigns online and in print?

Or, why aren’t more newspapers adopting the “If you can’t beat Google, steal their thunder” model, going to news aggregation? Why aren’t more offering readers content that is both original and from other sources? And why not charge a subscription fee form that? (An aside: while writing this post, the Poynter Institute’s Al Tompkins posted a story about a former TV newsman who has done just that, and at a profit. Read it here.)

Why isn’t a national organization like NAA looking to create content sharing pacts among newspapers, allowing for a “kickback” for sharing content from one organization to another to provide added value for readers?  Why aren’t newspapers offering products that allow transplanted readers to get information from their hometown, as well as from the community they now live in?

It’s past the time that newspapers break the bonds to paper. Paper is not where the value is.

Content is the golden egg. Focus on it and create new ways for readers to embrace it. Then sell that to your audience.

Now that’s something of value.


5 thoughts on “Misplaced values

  1. Remember the Apple Newton and all the subsequent failures)? Been there, done that. Kindle is doomed. Internet and TV are good for short stupid stuff (like this banter!). Books are way, WAY better on paper. By your logical extension: are you suggesting you really want entire libraries to be scanned digitally and reduced to computers placed in tiny phone booths? Besides, what will Sara Palin and the right-wing political religious nutz do to hold their liberal book burning parties?

  2. What a load of crap. People hate, HATE to read on the computer. ebooks continue sell and ultimately fail. Well printed, designed, and illustrated books, magazines, and newspapers deliver the best value for delivering the whole story. Few stories are better when edited to the childrens’ short-attention-span length and shoehorned into of the top of the first web page with giant blinking type.

    • Would love to agree with you, but two recent stats tell me something different:

      1. Amazon sold more Kindles than paper books this holiday season

      2. In 2009, 13 percent of New York Times readers read it on the NYT mobile app.

      Nothing beats a great story displayed in an appealing design. But readers are adapting to electronic formats. And as an industry, we need to stay ahead of that curve.

  3. Like your article, but I don’t want to pay for my news. I think advertisement should cover the cost of my news. But then again… 20 years ago I said I would never pay to watch T.V. and now I have cable. Go figure.

    • Remember, 20 years ago you barely had CNN, ESPN, USA, CNBC, HBO, Showtime, etc. As cable (and later satellite) added value to its offering, more people found value in paying for TV. You can still choose not to pay, and get the same networks you’d get 20 years ago.

      This is what newspapers face in having people pay for news online. Offer the same thing they were getting, and folks won’t pay. Offer something they value so much that they’re willing to pay a permium, and they will.

      It seems simple, but so many publishers don’t seem to get it.


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