Last week, the Boston Globe announced a rather bizarre digital strategy (or stragedy as I like to think of it).
Next year, they will be launching a new paid site (free to print subscribers) called BostonGlobe.com, which will include “news and feature stories, commentary, analysis, photos and graphics”.
The Globe’s existing site, Boston.com will remain free and include breaking news, weather, sports and entertainment guides. They are calling it a “one stop source for all things Boston”.
Neiman Labs describes it as a “Doubleminty Strategy” – BostonGlobe.com is for the “niche/loyal” audience and Boston.com will be for the “mass/casual” audience.
This is a terrible, terrible plan.
First of all, who the hell builds a successful website by targeting a “casual” user base? Online businesses need highly loyal and engaged audiences to succeed.
But of course, they’re not really trying to build a new business; they’re trying to protect an old one. And that’s where the strategy gets really ridiculous. While offering free information and services to “casual” readers, they’re going to punish their “loyal” online readers by charging them for what has until now been free.
But of course, they don’t really care about the freeloading loyal online readers. The real objective is to protect the old, dying, print business.
Forget the long-term. Forget anyone under forty-five. Print must be protected because that's where the profit is. For now.
The limitations of their strategy are painfully obvious. Why do newspaper executives continue to make such silly decisions?
I’m not saying that paid content will never work. But you have to stop and think about the products you are selling. Non-targeted paywalls and metered systems are not innovative. They are just a way of doing the same thing while expecting a different result. And that definitely won't work.
You have to create truly unique value. It’s called product marketing. And it’s the way most businesses generate revenue.
In January of 2011, Bloomberg will be launching Bloomberg Gov, a “comprehensive, subscription-based, online tool that collects best-in-class data, provides high-end analysis and analytic tools, and delivers deep, reliable, quick and unbiased reporting from a team of more than 2,300 journalists and multimedia specialists worldwide. It also offers news aggregated from thousands of the top trusted news sources from around the globe.”
Combining data, analysis and tools to create a product that is truly valuable to a large and moneyed potential audience - why that’s an awesome idea! If a product offers utility and exclusivity people are much more likely to be willing to pay for it.
Could the New York Times or Washington Post have developed this product? Absolutely. But they didn’t. Nor did any other newspaper company. And I’ll tell you why.
First, smooth seas don’t make skillful sailors. Years of near effortless success have created a group of executives incapable of true innovation. (Yes, there are exceptions, don't send me angry emails.)
And second, journalists don’t want to think about the content they develop as a product created to meet the needs of a buyer. They believe they are above that. Due to the church and state tradition, they’ve never had to think about how the bills get paid. And because of that, they too are at a complete loss when actual business innovation is required.
For an example of how the Boston Globe should be experimenting with paid content, I’ll turn, as I often do when discussing newspaper innovation, to Scandinavia.
At Sweden’s Aftenbladet, newspaper executives are experimenting with a “freemium” model. News and commentary on the site remain free, but users are also offered a “Plus” service, which can be paid for in micropayments or by subscription.
“The Plus service includes lifestyle material, such as over 200 different travel guides, health articles, and reviews of cars, gadgets and other products and services. There are also instructional guides for everything from buying an apartment to dieting or owning a pet. The paper also charges for select news stories, such as those that have to do with the Swedish Royal family.
The service's most popular content are the health articles, travel guides, the yearly lists regarding taxation in Sweden, and the reviews.”
Ah! Just like Bloomberg, they’re charging for utility and exclusivity.
A small group of editors select the material to go behind the paywall. Product development manager Elsa Falk stated in an interview that, “We are very much entrepreneurs here at Aftonbladet, and it has been good enough so far. Now we want to apply more strategic thinking in our plans."
Good idea! If only they had applied strategic thinking to their plans in Boston!
But actually, the Boston Globe got it completely backward. They’re charging for news and commentary and giving away the utility for free.
What if Boston.com truly was a “one stop source for all things Boston”? What if they offered utility? And what if one couldn’t get that utility anywhere else?
Well, they’d have to make significant improvements to their existing product.
Here’s some ideas:
- Help your readers cut through red tape.
- Help your readers find things that are hard to find.
- Use data, analysis and tools to create ultimate guides to things your readers care about
- Help your readers maneuver in a busy life in a big city
It will take time to determine what will be successful. It requires experimentation. It requires a product management philosophy.
But it’s time to get started. Don’t you think?