My favourite word at the Scripps National Spelling Bee this year was “Omphaloskepesis”: the act of looking at one’s navel. It’s a great word for what’s going on in the newspaper industry right now.
The choices are so frightening, the solutions so radical, no one wants to face up to the reality of what needs to be done. So they retreat away from reality. They are lying to themselves and it will only serve to speed their demise.
are the Top 10 lies as I see them.
I’ve saved the biggest, fattest one for last.
Lie #1: We can manage this disruption
from within an integrated organization.
pressures over the past few years have led many newspaper execs to convince
themselves that the integrated organization is the best option.
will not work because the disrupted cannot manage their own disruption. Most newspaper employees are not
qualified to do the strategic thinking required to manage disruption let alone
create it in the form of new products that may challenge the core because they
still see themselves as print newspaper employees. Just stating that you are a “news” company instead of a “newspaper”
company doesn’t make it true.
couldn’t agree more with Howard Owens analysis. The only way newspapers can ensure the
survival of their brands and the journalistic principles they hold so dearly is
to separate the web organization completely from the newspaper.
Christensen talks about the “sucking sound of the core”. That’s exactly what is happening at
news organizations around the world.
The print product will always win because it still makes the most money,
has the most people and cost associated with it and is where everyone feels
It would be very difficult to sit at a boardroom table and convince the room that the focus should be on the thing that makes little money, has unlimited competitors and a very unclear future or path to profitability. Michael Nielsen gives a nice explanation of this here. The sensible manager will focus on managing the core even if it is in decline and that’s why the two operations cannot co-exist.
Lie #2: Print advertising reps can sell
online ads too
most often the phrasing is “print reps should
be able to sell online ads”.
they should. But they can’t.
print reps to sell online advertising simply doesn’t work. I’ve had my own personal experience
with this and have had numerous conversations with others who have tried to
make it work.
take my word for it, over the past few years Borrell and Associates have
used stronger and stronger language around about the need to keep print and
digital sales forces separate.
a 2008 report for the American Press Institute’s Newspaper Next project, they
stated “The logical next step – and really the only next step – is to separate
the sales operations”.
state this because they have proven numerically that combining the sales forces
almost always dampens sales results.
Because most print reps at most newspapers have not been sales people at
all. They have been order
takers. I remember several years
ago hearing of the executive who quipped that his reps “aggressively answer the
most print reps have been selling lines and columns for decades. Online sales are far more complex and
more time consuming than print sales.
The rep may have to explain how online advertising works to the client,
something they themselves are probably still not comfortable with. Then there’s the monitoring and
optimizing and reporting. It’s a
lot of work for a fraction of the revenue.
there’s the question of compensation.
Just paying commission won’t work on such small numbers. A VP of Advertising once asked me how
he could justify paying 25% of his bonus budget on 4% of his revenue
budget. He definitely had a point.
experience has been that an online-only sales team is always better. They tend to be like their agency
counter-parts, young, dynamic, aggressive and ambitious.
newspaper execs hate, hate, hate to deal with this fact. After all, “print reps should be able to sell online too”. A senior exec at a very large newspaper
company (not the Star) tried to convince me that his integrated sales force was
working because while his total revenue was down this year, he had gained
you’re lying to yourself. In an
economic downturn, the largest newspaper always gains share.
after me: Separate sales forces are the only way to ensure that the full value
of the website is being monetized.
Lie #3: Aggregators are killing my business
one drives me nuts. Don’t blame
Arianna, Tina, Larry and Sergey or all those Tweeple out there. If anyone killed the newspaper
business as we knew it, it was Craig Newmark.
making this argument always forget that newspapers can be aggregators too. As I asked earlier this week, why is
there no HuffPo equivalent in the UK?
don’t even need humans to do the aggregation. Daylife, Evri, Inform et al will do it for you and in the
case of Daylife in particular, brilliantly.
won’t repeat my points from my post on the talk of changing copyright laws and
fair use doctrine. You can read
Lie #4: We can re-create scarcity by
putting up pay walls
you can’t until you actually figure out what’s scarce and what’s abundant.
newspaper information just isn’t that scarce. Nor is it of particularly high quality. Why do we need to publish the entire
printed product online? The web is
increasingly becoming verticalized.
Figure out what is truly scarce information to your readers. Then, maybe you can charge for it.
believe that a large percentage of online readers are content to read someone
else’s analysis of the news rather than the news itself. A pay wall encourages users to find
commentary on the news rather than the story itself. Thus conversations about a particular news story will occur
all over the web, but not on the originating site.
first of the “95 Theses” in the Cluetrain Manifesto is that “Markets are
Conversations”. Allowing others to
own your conversations is allowing others to own your market too.
Lie #5: Our readers paid for news in the
past, they will again
they? And will they?
don’t know if we can make the definitive case that most newspaper purchasers
were actually paying for news.
They were paying for a bundle of utility that included news, but where
was the real perceived value in the minds of readers (i.e. which parts of the
bundle did they feel they needed to pay for) and how much did monopoly or near
monopoly play into the equation?
used to play a role in the most important moments in our lives. Our first job, car, rental apartment
and purchased home were likely found in the classifieds section. We used the paper to help us shop every
week (coupons and flyers, travel, living and food sections) and decide what
movie to see at what time and where.
the utility bundle is broken. How
much of the value of the newspaper was derived from news and how much was
derived from all these other things?
After all, news has always been free on TV and radio.
Lie #6: There will never be enough online
revenue to support our newsroom
this one is kind of true. There
may never be enough online revenue to support your newsroom as it is right now. Where they are lying to themselves is
in the assumption that the newsroom must continue to do all the things it does
to scale, competition and measurability, online advertising will likely never
reach the dollar values of print advertising. The businesses will be smaller. Newsrooms must become smaller too. Use the Jeff Jarvis
principle: Do what you do best and link to the rest.
newsrooms are not simply an economic requirement. Readers demand more focused content as well. They already know how to find the
generic, commoditized stuff. They
want you to provide real value.
out what your online revenue potential is and build a newsroom of appropriate
Lie #7: No one will ever cover
crime/health/city hall the way we do
prolific crime blogger in Chicago is a 16-year-old kid with a police
a horrible little Catch 22 given Lie #6:
As more journalists are laid-off, the more potential expert bloggers
there are and the greater the potential for small, focused local news sites to
flourish using former newspaper journalists as freelancers and editors. The more cuts made, the more newspapers
are guaranteeing their own demise.
Lie #8: Our readers can’t be trusted/they
are idiots/they are assholes
you get out of the way and let a real community develop, when you encourage and
nurture that community, your readers will self-govern that community.
are no longer the sole voice in the relationship. You cannot continue to hold them at arms length.
Lie #9 Democracy will
collapse without us
No, it probably won’t.
People will find the information they need. The vacuum will be filled.
If you haven’t read Shirky or Johnson on this
topic, do so now.
And now, the biggest, fattest lie of them
Lie #10: I can compete with the best
digital leaders/thinkers/creators in the world without becoming an active
member of the online community.
you have a blog, a Twitter feed and a Facebook account and until you are
reading most of your news online and commenting on what you read, until you are
all over Digg, Reddit, StumbleUpon, iGoogle, Netvibes and the like, until you
can actually explain to me how online CPM-based advertising works, until you
can explain how SEO and SEM work, until you know what “pwnd” means, until you
know the significance of the 3 Wolf Moon or 3 Cat Keyboard t-shirt, you don’t
know what you don’t know.
You are competing with the very people who created the Internet. Increasingly, you are competing with the generation who grew up online. How can you possibly be so arrogant that you think you can compete in that world without becoming a part of it?
Stop that navel gazing and look around. You are outmatched.