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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Filed Under: business models, communities, newspapers


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  1. identicon
    Gibsonav, 5 Feb 2009 @ 8:20am

    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.

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