Dear Newspapers: Focus On Enabling Your Community; Not Whining About Who Owes You Money

from the trying-this-again dept

There have been a whole series of stories lately, often from newspaper industry insiders, bemoaning the sorry state of their industry. Obviously, we’ve been seeing (and pointing to) similar stories for a few years now, but their pace has accelerated in the last few months — with a pretty clear trend: blame others for the newspaper industry ills (the internet! Google! Craiglist! those darn kids! etc.), and then work out some totally hypothetical model that will somehow force someone else to pay, rather than give people a reason to buy. This distinction is pretty important.

Take, for example, this column by Gary Storch, explaining why newspapers need to start charging online. Media mogul Steven Brill is also arguing the same thing (which is doubly amusing since Brill tried and failed to get people to pay for content online). I won’t go through the long list of arguments of why that’s silly (that’s been done before), but just note that the focus is on “newspapers need to charge,” and not on “what can we provide that someone’s willing to pay for.” That’s rather important, because it’s pretty clear that just charging for news won’t get enough people to pay. Next up, is Peter Orsig’s rather confused demand that Google rescue newspapers (again, not a new idea by any means). That column had numerous factual problems — torn to shreds nicely by both Mark Potts and Mathew Ingram. Again, though, the issue is that the focus is on just getting someone else (Google, instead of readers this time) to hand over money, rather than figuring out a way to improve their product in a way that anyone would choose willingly to give them money.

This theme seems to run through much of the discussion around newspapers and business models. Even as they’re doing a better and job attracting an online audience, you almost never hear of newspapers looking for ways to better serve that community in a manner that offers up things they want to pay for. Instead, it’s all about coming up with ways to demand money, as if it’s something they’re owed. They’re not, and they’re discovering that day by day, even if they’re unwilling to admit it.

It’s time for newspapers to start looking at ways they can add value and give someone, whether individuals, sponsors or others, a good reason to give them money. So far they’re failing, and a big part why is that they still view their readers as an “audience” rather than a community. That’s why they do little to enable that community to do more, instead focusing on passing down the word from on high. That’s not how communities work, and the end result is the mess that so many newspapers are facing today.

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Comments on “Dear Newspapers: Focus On Enabling Your Community; Not Whining About Who Owes You Money”

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13 Comments
diesel mcfadden says:

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with charging if you have something worth buying.

I give the WSJ money for a yearly subscription and it doesn’t bug me. It’s not hard for me to see the value in it. Bloomberg charges with no adverse effects.

But WSJ is also very good at letting a lot of their articles make it through to the net or free when linked from specific sites. I guess I feel since I can figure out ways to read it for free (like googling the title to find places that i can click through from or read extended quotes), I don’t mind paying them for the extra convenience. And the overall package is worth it.

I don’t know why I don’t feel that way about the NYT. They never could get me to pony up for the TimesSelect product.

Well, it’s about the product and the price, isn’t it? It’d be generous to say that I read an article a day from my local paper, call it a minute a day. I’m not going to pay $20/month for a 30 minutes a month.

Anonymous Coward says:

Newspapers = RIAA?

The great thing about newspapers is… they haven’t found a way to sue all of the online distributors of “news.” Maybe they should sue all of the online distributors of “news” because of “blatant copyright infringement.”

You know… all those blogs that SHOULD have reported the story about the trapped cat in a tree to the newspapers, but instead wrote about it on their LiveJournal. Go sue them to recoup your losses.

What? The RIAA tried something similar? Really? Oh…

Ajax 4Hire (profile) says:

While we are at supporting older technologies...

While we are supporting older technologies…

Make Google support the newspapers;
Make the Big-3 Auto makers support the buggy & horse industry.
Make Microsoft, HP & IBM support the typewriter industry;
Make Electric Companies support the candle industry;
Make the Oil & Coal Companies support the manure industry.
Make email, UPS, Fedex support the Post Office;
Make England support Europe; Japan,China support USA.

You don’t drive in the rear-view mirror.
You look forward to avoid the obstacles;
Looking back for too long will only hurt your neck.

Gibsonav says:

The problem with this argument is that it’s subjective. Like a lot of what’s going on in this politically correct crazy country we’ve created, VALUE seems to be based on what “I” like and don’t like. That being said, it’s impossible to please all of the people all of the time so the model you’re proposing doesn’t apply in the real world.
“Enable the community…” just sounds like more PC and tree hugging rhetoric that no one would ever be able to satisfy to anyone’s full measure. But I bet it’s a great argument when you want to make something go away isn’t it?
here’s the simple reason that papers will never die…be ready to be shocked…NOT EVERYONE OWNS A COMPUTER… I know with the MMORPG and eBay zealots it’s hard to believe but it’s true.

nasch says:

Re: Re:

1) Of course value is subjective
2) No business pleases everyone all the time. This is not relevant at all.
3) Not to sound rude, but there are businesses that are growing online communities out there. Just because you don’t understand doesn’t mean it’s impossible.
4) It’s a fact that newspaper subscriptions are down, and the papers have to find a way to deal with that. I have no doubt some will go out of business because they don’t figure out how in time. The fact that not everyone has a computer will not prevent this from happening.

Anonymous Coward says:

Lets not forget that the media in general which includes these papers are all incredibly biased in their reporting, and that they have fallen away from their original intent of reporting the events as they happened without interjecting their own opinion into the “news” itself. Because of this people are flocking to partisan news sources online, via radio or tv. I’m sure this contributes to it as well.

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