The paid content battle on the home front

This morning I looked out my window and saw the Sunday Chicago Tribune sitting on my driveway.

But when I went out to get it after taking a shower and getting dressed, it was gone.

I guess that shows that, no matter what format it takes, some people just refuse to pay for news content.






Crawling into the evening; Slovakia pays up; Is Patch leaking?

My last entry berated newspaper publishers for fearing to take a leap of faith and try new things to get themselves out of the hole they dug themselves into.

But, fortunately, there are a few out there that are willing to give it a try. One of them is the Orange County Register, which decided to run with some recent research on the habits of tablet owners and create a P.M. edition for the iPad. But instead of just turning back the clock 30 years and giving readers a newspaper with final stock prices, the Register team instead focused on a key demographic and is tailoring the content to fit what they are looking for.  So instead of an electronic newspaper for the masses, its more of a niche product for young South California professionals.

It’s being offered at a price. But, as the Knight Foundation researchers found, tablet users are willing to pay for content if they find valuable to their lifestyle, in terms of information and fit.

A  smart move by the Register, and an experiment everyone should keep an eye on.

Keep in mind that survival of individual news companies won’t be reliant on one big money-maker, but several smaller ones. A P.M. tablet edition tailored for that particular audience could very well be a step in that direction.

The future of paid content … in Slovakia?

As more traditional news outlets jump onto the pay wall wagon, media blogger Alan Mutter highlights one model that seems to be working overseas. Two takeaways he notes:

1. News organizations working together to make it work (though he doesn’t mention if they are in competitive situations)

2. It’s easy for customers to pay.

Would something like this work in, say,  New York or Chicago, where competition among news orgs is fierce? That is unsure,  but it would be interesting to see the lions sitting with the lambs for the sake of journalism’s future.

More Hype on Hyperlocal

Interest blog item from Erik Wemple of the Washington Post on AOL and hyperlocal site Patch.  It’s interesting that Forbes predicts AOL’s massive venture is expected to lose $100 million this year. Seems like Patch’s revenue model — which is very similar to the one that doomed other good ventures earlier in the decade — has yet to catch on for the majority of its 800 sites.

What makes it sad is that Patch was one of the largest employer of out-of-work journalists in the past year (notably at a lower pay scale than they were previously making). If AOL cannot build a sustainable revenue stream for Patch, these journalists will be back on the streets…and that’s the real tragedy.

Why are newspapers afraid of innovation?

If newspaper publishers ran Apple, we’d still be buying Apple 2E computers built in a California garage.

If newspaper publishers ran Hyundai, we’d still be driving econoboxes that barely made it past their warranties.

If newspaper publishers ran NASA, we’d still be shooting monkeys into space.

If..well, you get the idea.

It never ceases to amaze me that in an industry that holds others’ to the fire for the sake of change, they are so adverse to it themselves. This becomes clearer after reading the Poynter Institute’s Rick Edmond’s post on the innovative  e “three-around”  printing   technology that is as innovative for print as it is efficient.

The process would mean a radical revamp of current newspaper formats, as Edmonds points out, and there would be some capital costs involved. Nonetheless, the company that developed the technology last year has said they are not getting takers to the new process.

Why? Edmonds quotes one of the developers: ““We have a lot of people who say they want to go second, but no one wants to be first.”

What we as an industry continue to realize is that the most successful companies are the ones that are willing to take the risk, make the investment in time and money,  to survive. Yes, Apple has the iPad and iPhone, but they also had the Newton (and, frankly, AppleTV is something they do not talk highly of today).

I agree with Edmonds’ assumption that it could be due to the industry focused so hard on a digital future that they do not want to put that kind of money into a print effort. But so many publishers still look at their newspapers as the flagship of their business. If they want to keep the ship afloat, they cannot leave it as is.

Hopefully, someone will step forward and take the risk on three-arounds to see if it will, indeed, provide a more efficient and economical alternative to the print industry.

It’s time to give the monkeys a break.

Newspapers’ real value: A marker of history

Comedian Bill Cosby once said there was no such thing as an atheist. An atheist, he maintained, could go all his life saying there was no god, but once the earth started rumbling, he’ll likely look up and say “Ahhhhhhhhh…I knew you were there all along!”

I feel the same can be said for naysayers of newspapers. Print is dead, they say. Newspapers are dinosaurs. Nobody wants to read them any more. I can get everything I need online, they add.

But I wonder just how many of those naysayers bought a copy of a newspaper last Monday. Throughout the country, newspapers had the death of terrorist Osama bin Laden at the hands of U.S. Special Forces on Page 1. It was a landmark moment: The mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks on U.S. soil is finally caught and killed.  A decade of  fear, angst and caution in the war on terrorism meets a major climax.

Yes, social media and digital news flashed the information worldwide, and the world knew the event even before President Obama could announce it to an eagerly awaiting nation. Page views on news web sites increased ten-fold and discussions on Facebook exploded exponentially.

But the next day, did anyone retain a tweet? Store a Facebook page? Make a news web site their iPad wallpaper?

Nope. People bought a newspaper.

Sales of major newspapers were so brisk that many of them, including the New York Times, Washington Post and Chicago Tribune, printed thousands of extra editions.

Why is that? I believe that, although the digital world provides speed and efficiencies unmatched by print, its content is way too fleeting.

A newspaper, on the other hand, is a marker of history.  It’s staying power is in its inability to change.  Like a road sign on a highway,  it remains in place as time speeds by. Every time you look at it, it recalls the moment you first saw it.

Marketing experts point out that although digital marketing is very hot right now, nothing can replace tangible experiences. Holding something in your hand gives that item value and importance.

Like a favorite photo, a newspaper can mark a historic or emotional event in a way that digital can’t.

Which is why newspapers should not be allowed to die.

If they do, we may lose our best marker for history.

Tablets and news: Back to the future?

Those of us who are children of television can remember the family oriented shows that would

Leave It to Beaver — © Universal Studios Home Entertainment, All rights reserved

"June, have you seen my iPad?"

always show the dad (whether it was Ward Cleaver, Ozzie Nelson or Jim Anderson) coming home from work, settling in the easy chair after dinner and opening a copy of the evening newspaper to settle in for an evening of catching up on the news.

That was life back in the ’50s, and in many ways Hollywood‘s dads reflected the habits of the average American. The U.S. was full of p.m. dailies to meet the information demands of the real-life Wards and Ozzies.

Then came the ’70s, and lifestyles changed.  Evening newspapers  died off like  black-and-white TV as morning newspapers fit people’s lifestyles more.

Today, newspapers — and news organizations in general — continue to struggle to find a profitable way to meet the growing information demands as people turn to electronic media to satisfy their thirst for news.

When Apple introduced the iPad in 2010, we in the business looked at it as a game changer, but we weren’t sure just how it could change. Now, a year later, we’re seeing how people are using tablet devices, and the results may give news organizations hope in finding their way into the future.

I recently sat in on a News University webinar (co-sponsored by The Poynter Institute and the Knight Foundation) on reader trends on iPad and tablets. Some interesting takeaways from that webinar:

1. iPad use among the early adopters tends to be more for leisure than productivity (counter to PC use). Most use their device while sitting on a couch or chair.

2. Use of the iPad trends high during the early morning (5-8 a.m.) and late evening (after 8 p.m.) hours, again contrary to other platforms.

3.  iPad users spend more time with their device, and tend to read more long-form items.

4. iPad users tend to be more willing to pay for quality content.

Heavy use in the evenings? Users sit in easy chair or sofa? They spend more time on the device? Willing to pay for content?

Is the iPad creating a new generation of Ward Cleavers?

This is something newspapers in particular should take notice. It is a formula that worked 50 years ago, and maybe it’s time to develop p.m. editions for tablet platforms. Keep in mind that the experience as well as the content is what will sell your product, but it is something that worked before, and if readers are ready for it, it’s definitely worth trying again.

But you better hurry.

Ozzie’s waiting for you.

Stay ahead of the pack, if you know where the pack’s going

Just when we thought newspapers had it figured out and started charging regular visitors to view its websites, comes out with the list of the Top 25 newspapers on Twitter. While newspapers are still focused on web visits, consider the top 2 news sites (with Twitter followers):

1. New York Times 3,062,437
2. Chicago Tribune (coloneltribune):  829,742

Now, compare this with ABC circulation figures as of Sept. 2010:

1. New York Times: 876,638
2. Chicago Tribune: 441,508

Granted, the other newspapers are still running more in paid circ than Twitter followers, but the numbers have been getting closer together in the past few years.

Given that newspapers in general still have a problem getting their hands around social networking, it’s not surprising that they still hand out content to Twitter and Facebook followers at no costs. The idea is still to build brand and readership loyalty that will eventually bring readers back to your newspaper or … more likely … your pay-to-play website.

But, given that new and younger readers are veering away from Web 2.0 and moving toward social networking as their primary source of news and information, wouldn’t it make more sense for publishers to look ahead to where readers are going and set up the checkout register in front of the crowd, rather than behind them?

Quick takes: Paywalls, Patch work and point people

A new notes:

* Interesting move in California: The Sonoma Index-Tribune decided to drop its online paywall this week after AOL’s Patch hyperlocal product started a site in the community. Patch, which integrates journalists with user-submitted content, is offered at no cost for web access. The Index-Tribune’s program was three months in before the plug was pulled.

Lesson learned: You can charge for online content when you’re the only game in town. But if you are the only game in town and are charging for online content, you open the door to competition.

* Speaking of Patch, the Chicago Reader’s Mike Miner had a good piece on the life of local Patch reporters and editors, noting that AOL’s venture hired more journalists than any other business this year, although the average salary, while tempting for those straight out of college, was obviously a large step down for many out-of-work veterans who now are Patch people .

Miner likened the Patch experience to his own roots starting with UPI many, many years ago. Judging from my observations of the site and the working by friends who are employed, I have to agree that there is a scrappiness to many of these sites that you don’t see from most other hyperlocals (Triblocal being an exception here in Chicago). Judging from Miner’s story, it does sound a lot like my first gig at a small weekly newspaper. 

So it is refreshing that AOL’s venture into journalism is providing a great platform for new journalists to cut their teeth and hone their skills.

What’s sad is there isn’t much to jump to after that. The moral here: Follow your passion, but keep your day job.

 *New York Times Social Media Editor Jennifer Preston will be reassigned to a reporting role next year, with her duties as the Time’s social media point person going to the interactive staff. While she had been criticized at the beginning for not knowing much about social media, you have to give her credit for helping NYT focus its social media strategy and teach staff how to utilize it.

If you follow NYT socially, you know  how well they’ve integrated it into their news strategy, and how interactive many of the key staff are. Here’s hoping that eliminating the point person means the social media ship can run itself.