Monday, May 4

Changing Times: From Print To Push

As a foreshadow toward a possible yet uncertain future, two newspapers — The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times — carried stories that mark the sign of the times.

The Washington Post featured an article highlighting the public struggles of the Boston Globe, which many expect could close in as little as 60 days. Meanwhile, The New York Times asked its readership if big-screen e-readers might save newspapers. Some of the new models, which are expected to be released by the end of the year, are coming much closer to electronic paper as imagined more than 35 years ago (and imagined in the fictional world of Harry Potter).

Newspapers And Other Content At The Edge Of A Chasm

For several years, the most pragmatic viewpoint about newspapers has been that they might be dying but news is thriving. Indeed, the problems faced by newspapers have been confined to one of distribution and economics.

Subscription-based content on a more portable e-reader might be the answer, provided newspapers learn to segment their free online vs. subscription-based publications. Content duplication has clearly hastened the demise of print.

The analogy is simple enough. Journalism will survive and leap forward to the other side. So the real question is what will we find once we get there. That is a toss up. While most people focus on the short term, asking whether newspapers will shift toward more localized reporting with an influx of citizen journalists or more relaxed professionals, the real challenge remains content oversight.

In 2007, we asked that question with the advent of the Kindle, already recognizing that the Internet solution-providers were starting to ask questions as to how much content control they wanted as distribution platforms. At the time, people laughed to think Amazon or anyone would attempt to control content. It's not in their nature, proponents said.

Not everyone is laughing now. Apple rejected an update of the Nine Inch Nails iPhone update, saying that it contains “objectionable content.” YouTube, as if in defiance of What Would Google Do? by Jeff Jarvis, is hoping to police product placement, thereby collecting a cut from certain content creators.

The Leap Is Simple Provided People Keep Their Senses

To be fair, it's new territory for everybody. And sometimes, future solutions are easier to come by than the vision of the people shaping it today.

What Could Google Do? Simple. Stick to what it knows best — developing great distribution platforms. And rather than worry about product placement, it might consider a tiered approach to bandwidth with premium video being streamed for a monthly content creator rate. For everyone else, free as always.

What Could Apple Do? Rather than reject material based upon questionable content, it might consider opening a separate section for adults. And no, we don't mean an electronic version of the original local video store. Rather, something like NIN can stick to creating content.

What Could Newspapers Do? Really, if the problem is distribution because printed products are too expensive, then it's well past time to partner with electronic paper makers. Some people might be willing to pay a modest rate for subscription service to some papers for delivery by application or e-reader. Just keep the price models in check. Almost everyone knows that subscription fees never really paid for print (so split the subscription with the distributor or whatever); advertising did.


Rich on 5/4/09, 2:55 PM said...

From Marketing Guy via Spinthicket.

Imho (as a news consumer only), the only way that any newspapers can survive is by differentiating themselves from free online content enough to justify consumer fees. People will realize that they are paying a premium to circumvent the inevitable skewing advertising-only pubs (net or otherwise) ultimately bring, and will pluck down the dinero if papers find a niche. Journalistic integrity, after all, is all that they have left to sell.

Bill Sledzik on 5/5/09, 5:49 AM said...

Assuming you put e-readers in the hands of each news consumer, you eliminate a majority of the production and distribution costs associated with the print versions. Now, if we can just figure out how to make the e-version attractive to advertisers, we're in business.

As we all know, it's the ad revenue that long enabled publishers to maintain large editorial staffs needed to investigate, gather, organize and present the news. Subscription costs merely covered printing and delivery -- if that much. So the e-readers, in theory, could eliminate the need to charge a subscription fee if advertisers also found value in them.

We can talk all we want about what Google will do or what Apple will do. And that's important in terms of distribution. But real "news" can only survive if someone is paid to gather it, organize it, analyze it and write it. And since advertisers still have a need to reach their communities, maybe there is hope that -- as you say -- journalism is to "survive and leap forward to the other side."

We can live without newspapers. But democracy can't survive without real news. I mean, who would the aggregators link to?

Rich on 5/6/09, 7:53 AM said...


While I'm not convinced that the first generation e-readers will do the job, I think a second or third generation e-reader, one that might seem like nothing more than paper, could do it.

So right, we can see what is on the other side, but how do we get there? Just as you said, advertisers have to pony up. (Maybe they can pay to put e-readers in the hands of their customers, branded, of course).

The holdback does seem to be advertisers, especially those who are still crunching numbers over qualified consumer. One would think paying for a prime spot on The New York Times would hit a certain class of reader, assuming online ads continue to evolve beyond the banner but remain void of flashy animation.

I think Google, Amazon, and Apple might all be relevant if they take on a roll as publishers as opposed to distributors. Personally, I like them better as distributors who stay out the content control.

We certainly need real news, especially the Lippmann variety, to preserve democracy or, even better, the republic. (And it certainly costs money to have someone sit in city chambers and court houses.)

I guess, in rereading what I just wrote, suffice to say you've given some additional ideas to think about. Though I wonder sometimes if Paul Revere and his pals didn't ask themselves the same things ... how are we going to get newspapers in the hands of everybody ... and who is going to pay for it.


Recruiting Animal on 5/6/09, 1:51 PM said...

If we need newspapers there has to be a way to pay for them.

But how many people need newspapers?

Entertainment news can be well covered by blogging aficionados.

Same with cars.

What would be missed would be the political coverage.

How many people read that?

Rich on 5/6/09, 3:54 PM said...


By all accounts, the visitation of dailies online is increasing, not diminishing. While citizen journalist can certainly cover some aspects of the news, people tend to gravitate to sources they trust.

Based upon how many people cite various sources of those you mentioned, it seems plenty still do.

There certainly is a way to pay for them, and advertising still seems to be best choice despite all the consideration to introduce subscriptions. Personally, I prefer some model where you can opt in for additional features. Seems to work online. But with e-readers becoming more available, paying for specific distribution might make sense too. We'll see, I guess.



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