Bad Assumptions Made By American Press Institute Will Stop It From Helping Newspapers

from the go-through-the-list dept

Last month, we wrote about the problems with the American Press Institute’s “plan” to help save newspapers, which seemed really misguided. Steve Yelvington has now gone through the report and does a great job explaining why the report is so far off: it’s basic assumptions are all wrong. He lists out each assumption and explains why it’s wrong:

Consumers perceive that content produced by news organizations is valuable to them. This myth persists primarily in organizations that are dangerously out of touch with their markets. Public opinion of journalism, and of newspapers, has gone into a nosedive. Decades ago, people might trash-talk “the media” but generally would make an exception for their local paper. No more. Newspaper managers should know this, but many of them have fired their research people to save money, preferring to stumble through the fog without eyes and ears.

Consumers will actually make content purchases when they are confronted with many free options. Over the last 15 years, this assumption has been demonstrated to be false in digital paid-content experiments by newspapers all over the world. The numbers of consumers so inclined aren’t great enough to sustain a business of significant scale. This idea persists primarily because so many newspaper people are deeply ignorant of what’s been going on in their own companies, and because digital people generally lose power struggles with print people. Almost everyone I know who ran a paid-content online media experiment no longer works for the company where they tried it. Those companies are now largely ignorant of their own histories.

Publishers can exert their influence in the marketplace through laws and public policy, both of which could change. Newspapers have been trying without success to get rid of FCC’s cross-ownership ban for decades. Newspapers, which are deeply despised by many politicians and sweeping sectors of their own customer bases, aren’t going to persuade the government to outlaw Google.

Publishers will invest in emerging technologies that establish new work rules, new systems for organizing content and new designs for packaging editorial and commercial content. These would be the same newspapers that underinvested in the Internet for the last 15 years, while pouring cash into glitzy corporate headquarters, printing presses, and more newspaper acquisitions? The ones who now can’t pay back the capital they’ve already borrowed?

News organizations can make the leap from an advertising-centered to an audience-centered enterprise. News organizations — OK, let’s be specific: newspapers — are deeply addicted to high-volume revenue streams and huge profit margins that have enabled them to gobble up other newspapers and create huge, dangerously leveraged media chains. Such organizations require growth to survive and will fail in spectacular ways when asked to cope with shrinkage. And make no mistake, the scale of any news business that asks its readers to take primary responsibility for underwriting the costs of journalism will be tiny when compared with the fat times at the end of the last century.

The rest of the post is worth reading, as well. Yelvington notes that many of these myths were already debunked for the API, so it’s not clear why they’ve been brought back up. Instead, Yelvington notes that no business model based on “attempts to reverse 15 years of social and technological change” simply won’t go very far.

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Companies: american press institute

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