The Paper Chase

Call me “Old School”, but I like a good old fashioned hard copy of newspaper in the morning with the morning coffee or breakfast. Not that I am breaking any news here, but I was pretty disheartened to hear (on the radio very early this morning) my first news nugget of the day: local newspapers continue to feel the pain with shrinking circulations. The Boston Globe saw an 10.2 percent drop in circulation over last year while the Heralds’ fell by 9.9 percent. Their Sunday numbers looked only slightly better by about two percentage points. The trend also played out nationally with consistency at the New York Times, Washington Post and LA Times all saw paid circulation figures drop. Only the Wall Street Journal and USA Today were about to share any positive news here: they both held circulation figures with no changes reported. I’ve been hearing people say of late “flat is good.” I guess so.

Add it all up and it is not good news for anyone –advertisers, consumers, news media junkies, PR people. But let’s face it – the Web has also killed the 30 minute broadcast news segment and the “news” paper is an oxymoron. But what are the good folks at New York Times Co. and other conglomerates to do to slow down their pace of extinction and keep their print properties afloat? Certainly it is not going to come from dramatically increased ad rates as subscriber numbers area headed in the wrong direction. And, it is still all about the eyeballs.

So, here are a few thoughts.

Turn back the clock. Many Web outlets attempted to charge for premium content back in the mid-90s and failed miserably. Yet, the WSJ has figured it out. I’d pay for something exceptional, rare and really great writing. Heck, ESPN.com does it with its “Insider” content and I’m sure that model works for them to be able to underwrite their high priced editorial talent.

Hit up the “Out of Towners” up for a few bucks. Do you pay more to get your Boston Globe when vacationing on Cape Cod or the Islands? Or your NY Post or Daily News when just have to read the latest Yankee bashing or celebrity gossip? I have to think that the legions of displaced Bostonians across the country who still want their “local” news and views on the Sox, Celts, Patriots, not to mention the latest on Beacon Hill, would fork over a few bucks a month for premium content delivered via RSS feed, video feed or email.

Monetize video. Most publishers have. Again, can’t someone figure out a way to price this type offering at a decent rate and still make some money? Think the Boston.com GameTracker and how many folks in Orange County, San Francisco, Chicago and Texas tuned in on their laptops to follow the Sox in the playoffs online.

Create an affiliate ad or marketer network. Hello? Has this been done? How many restaurants, ski resorts, clubs, theaters and other sports, arts and entertainment venues need to stay top of mind with consumers? Work out some ad placement deals with discounted meals or tickets for subscribers and everyone wins. Who wants a half empty house of patrons? Who wants to pay full price for anything in this economy?

I hope some fixes come along soon. What else will we line or bird cages with or wrap our fish in? Old laptops, Blackberries or smart phones?

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