If the package won’t sell, how about the pieces?

Here’s a fun fact I discovered this week:

Chicago Tribune’s paid circulation (as of  Aug. 2010) : 452,144.

Followers of the Tribune’s ColonelTribune Twitter feed (as of Sept. 21, 2010): 848.086.

Can this example tell us anything…besides that we’ve missed another revenue opportunity?

We’re looking at a prime example of niche communities developing in the cyber world. More people are attracted to a breaking news feed (that has a virtual personality) than a one-size-fits-all product. Maybe, in future development of news products for iPad,  tablet PCs, next-gen mobile devices, etc., companies should look at splitting up the package and letting the reader decide which pieces best serve his needs.

Instead of an iPad version of a newspaper’s Web site, maybe serve up separate products based on the elements of your paper…breaking news, local news, sports, business, entertainment, lifestyles, etc. Offer them either individually or develop a user-customizable package. Sell it the way a 7-Eleven would sell individual cans of pop out of a 12-pack.

This may also be a more cost-effective way to create an iPad product that doesn’t necessarily re-invent the user’s experience with the product.

I’m sure the Tribune Company would love to find a way to convert those 850,000 followers into paying customers. My mantra was and continues to be: If you can give your readers what they want, when they want it and in the format they prefer, they will be willing to pay for it.

And … if it’s as good as what the Colonel has been offering so far … they may be willing to stop getting it for free.

Is hyperlocal news necessarily urgent?

The Poynter Institute’s Rick Edmonds brings up an interesting point in the new surge of hyperlocal news. In essence, Edmonds suggests that the news served up on hyperlocal sites isn’t necessarily “urgent” for readers.

In terms of content value, he’s right.  The “chicken dinner’ news that hyperlocal strives for doesn’t carry the same weight as, say, an airliner crash or a political scandal. And particularly,  if the hyperlocal site is the dominant or only source of news in its communities, Edmonds is certainly be on mark…it’s news you can wait for.

However, what we’re seeing is the proliferation of hyperlocal ventures in large markets, where not only is there competition among the local traditional brands, but among hyperlocal online efforts as well. AOL, for example, is investing its Patch.com venture heavily into the New York/New Jersey, L.A,, San Francisco, Chicago and Boston markets, markets not necessarily known for their dearth of local offerings. In Chicago alone, AOL’s Patch is going up against the Tribune Company’s Triblocal, as well as few independent start-ups (like Arlington Heights’  The Cardinal), in addition to some already well-established metro and suburban daily and weekly newspapers, many of which focus coverage on very local news. (Disclosure: I am employed by Paddock Publication’s Daily Herald, one of those established suburban Chicago newspapers, though I do not speak for them in this posting).

(Edmonds notes that his community in the Tampa Bay area isn’t being served by Patch yet, and that suits him fine. AOL  probably hasn’t gone there not because the it need a hyperlocal presence, but I’m sure it has to do with area’s demographics not meeting AOL’s standards for attracting advertising dollars. Nothing personal, Rick…)

 I  don’t believe today’s marketplace will be able to support such a plethora of hyperlocal. Therefore,  the survival of these sites will be dependent on what they can give their audience, and how quickly. Yes, urgency may play a key role in the local soccer league scores. But it will also be a factor in the ability to deliver relevant, accurate and reliable information to its readers, whether it be the latest police reports from down the street of where one can find a great deal on a pizza in town.

Urgency will be in the eyes of the customer. When he comes to your site, you better have what he’s looking for, and it better be easily accessible. If he’s using a mobile device, you better be able to push that information just as fast as he demands. That, coupled with reliability, accuracy and trust, will win the battle of hyperlocals.

Is hyperlocal news necessarily urgent news?

Only if and when the customer demands it.

The world in 2014…more touchscreen, IKEA?

I’ve always been a sucker for  “life in the future” videos, and was especially impressed with this vid posted from TAT, an innovator of touchscreen technology. Their vision of the world in 4 more years is pretty cool and probably realistic if the world’s economic engines start stoking full steam before then.

The question is whether this world becomes too invasive for most people. Considering the speed in which the world has moved in the past 10 years (try looking around for a normal alarm clock nowadays), I think it could happen. I just wish there wasn’t so much IKEA in the future.

Some thoughts from the E.R.

There’s been a lot of news about newspapers recently, and a lot of it hasn’t been good. 

The first item from futurist Ross Dawson predicts newspapers will cease to exist by the year 2022. (UPDATE 9/9/10:  NY Times publisher Sulzberger says NYT’s print edition will be gone soon. Maybe by 2015) He believes newspapers will be replaced by iPad-like devices that will sell for less than $10. If this is true, this supports my earlier arguments that newspapers should adopt the cellphone industry model…practically give away the hardware, then change for services that can be provided to the device. In reality, we are starting to see this develop with the iPad, as companies begin to toy with the idea of selling interactive experiences, instead of adapting their website to the specific platform. Again, it’s not the content that is being sold, but a package that provides content to the user in a unique experience that he is willing to pay for.  (UPDATE 9/9/10: Here are three examples of  great iPad news readers … none of them from a traditional news organization.)

Are newspapers going the way of the telegraph and papyrus? This week’s good news/bad news report on ad revenues doesn’t help the case. Second quarter revenues are down 5.6 percent   to $6.44 bilion. Compared to last year’s 29 percent loss,  the numbers don’t appear to be painful.  But, print revenue is at the same levels as 1983, so it’s not cause to celebrate yet. The Titanic is still sinking, but not as fast as before. 

Will things get better? Well, yes, but according to this expert, it probably won’t occur until 2014 … and that’s only because newspaper companies are expected to find more digital alternatives that will eventually draw advertisers in order to seek new, younger audiences. Advertisers at that time are expected to come back to print to reach its older demographics. But by that time, will there be a sufficient audience for print? And, given how much newspapers have lost over the past four years, will there be anything left for them to sell in two years? 

And I doubt we’ll find much sympathy among readers. A recent Gallup poll notes that only 25 percent of Americans have confidence in newspapers (although newspapers fared better than television, which had a 22 percent confidence rating).  That’s not a very good feeling for those in the business who believe they are providing a fair and balanced report to readers, and sharpens up another stake to eventually be driven into the coffin. 

But I’m not a big believer in polls, and tend to think that people look at news media the same way they look at Congress (which, coincidentally, scored at the bottom of the confidence poll). That is, people are generally dissatisfied with the media or Congress in a general sense, but tend to be satisfied with the local incumbent.  They’ll look at the global coverage with a skeptic’s eye, but will accept the local Little League scores as they are. It’s that belief that has me sure there is a future for hyperlocal news products, and it’s a key reason why local newspapers need to focus money and resources on developing their hyperlocal brand before someone else beats them to it. 

Newspapers will eventually go the way of Western Union and the pony express primarily because it will not be able to meet the growing demands of immediate news the way newer media devices have. But as I sit in the waiting room and watch the doctors work on the patient, I can’t help but shed a tear for the long, wonderful life it had.