David Kirkpatrick

September 5, 2010

Papers are going somewhere

Filed under: Business, Media, Technology — Tags: , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 3:16 pm

And that somewhere is a path that leads to fewer pages, fewer ads and much lower revenue. Most dailies have essentially priced themselves into a pure luxury good for people who just like the smell of the ink and the feel of the newsprint under finger (I admit to falling into that category even though I no loner take a daily paper.)

Rishad Tobaccowala writes at Adweek on the future of the newspaper industry in a piece titled, “Papers Aren’t Going Anywhere,” and sees a relatively bright future, particularly in serving the local community. The problem with the article is it’s really about the reinvention of traditional print media into something completely different. Yes, if the newspaper industry can adapt to a brand new world, significantly alter business models and realize they don’t stand alone as arbiters of what news their market gets to consume then yeah, the newspaper industry might pull out of the current death spiral. I wouldn’t bet on it, though.

Here’s the four changes Tobaccowala’s sees as necessary for newspapers:

Having spent some time with senior and junior personnel across the newspaper industry, I know they know the perils they face. Many are making the difficult decisions and changes necessary to thrive. These changes are taking places in the following areas:

1. Culture: The newspaper industry needs to be reinvigorated. The people who created the cash cow of the paper package need help to create challenger products that will supplement and even cannibalize the newspaper. In many papers a cultural and organizational soap opera is occurring. I bet on the next generation to win since nothing trumps survival.

2. Technology: Organizations need to elevate the role of technology and technology partnerships to board-level status. The future will be about how to use technology to curate, combine and aid discovery of articles to relevant audiences at scale. This will require world-class technology smarts.

3. Partnering: In addition to technology partnerships, newspapers need to find ways to continue to embrace other voices into their bundle of products and services. These include the blogging community, the Yelps of the world and all the people outside the industry who are trying to reinvent the industry. We are living in a world of links and connections and, oddly, to be more competitive thinking synergistically is better than thinking competitively

4. Focus: Each news organization has to decide what it makes, what it shares and what it borrows. Vertical integration may be fine for Apple, but doing all things is a no go for most other firms. Each newspaper needs to determine what it’s best at or what, with investment, it could be best at. Share and borrow the rest.

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