Saturday, February 28, 2009

Newsday has the audience to make paid content work.

"We plan to end the distribution of free Web content and make our news gather capabilities a service to our customers," Cablevision COO Tom Rutledge said on an earnings call. The statement is up to interpretation but it has added to recent conversation about micropayments and other models for paid content.

Ken Doctor at Content Bridges sites E&P Nielson Rankings in arguing that Newsday will have a tough time monetizing the mere 4.5 minutes a month the average unique visitor spends on the site. Number of unique visitors is not a significant statistic for the purposes of understanding how a paid-content model will work.

Unique visitors include everyone who has seen the site, even those who arrive through Google search and stay only a minute. The people who would pay for Newsday content are those who (1) visit the site often, (2) have high engagement in the website's offerings, and/or (3) are already paying customers--either to a print subscription or classified/display advertising. The goal is to find out who they are a create a paid content product for them.

Newsday has a strong subscriber base. According to a Newsday classifieds rep reached by phone, they have 700,000 exclusive readers, circulation of 387,000, and altogether 3/4 of adults in Long Island. 75% of their readers have the publication delivered to their door. However, of that circulation, who is using the website, and how are they using it? Alternatively, how much of those unique website visitors pay for a print edition or for advertising, and (again) how do they use the website?

Content Bridges quotes email from an unnamed Newsday reporter, "[At Newsday] the Web is seen, still, as an accessory to the dead-tree edition. There is no emphasis from the newsroom editors on getting content online quickly, on blogging, etc.". Newsday will not succeed by adding an online price tag to made-for-print content. It has to build the internal structures needed to develop digital content products to an audience that will pay for them.

Links and Sources

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Newspapers compete online. Examples from Gannett, Advance Publications, and Packet Publications

Local newspapers that have enjoyed operating in noncompetitive markets for many years are increasingly competing directly with each other online.

This is in addition to the new competition with publishers and aggregators of local content, such as Craig's List. I refer specifically to direct competition between newspapers for online traffic.

The culprit is the one-to-many model for establishing local content sites, where one site for a broader geographical region is established, with newspapers sub-sites in that region associated with the broader website.

The newspaper may be unrivaled on its own turf. However, often there is crossover between the regions the broad websites cover. As a result, the broader content websites compete for traffic and regional online advertising.

New Jersey, for example is seeing heated online competition between the following Groups:

According to, has much higher overall traffic than the other sites. However, traffic alone does not tell you much. Packet Publications' 14 papers all focus on the Princeton area, and its print rivals in the area have no significant web presence. Advance and Gannett do not have any competing print publications in Princeton, but Advance's does have a "local news" section for Mercer County, where Princeton Township is located. The advertiser's choice depends very much on desired audience, regional coverage, and combination of online and offline advertising.

There are deeper advertising questions to be answered:
  • How well is the combination of print and online reaching the target audience in the target region?
  • Who is reading the paper first and the website second (or not at all)? Who is reading the website first and the paper second (or not at all)? How do these groups break down in demographics and in online user behavior?
  • Print goes out daily, but how often do visitors to the website return to the website?
  • How are online traffic number related to circulation numbers?
  • What kind print/web packages are available to advertisers? (Print advertising is pretty much standard, but web advertising comes in various forms.)

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Newspapers should learn to push like Google

Google threatens newspapers because it intends to convince local advertisers to advertise on its platform rather than directly with the paper.

However, newspapers can learn from Google's strategy. Google is working hard to be a 360 degree company--no matter where you look, its there. What is your newspaper doing to be 360 degrees?

Google wants to reach you on every screen you interact with. As Jeff Jarvis puts it in his book
Most companies think centralized, and they have since the decline of the Sears catalog and the dawn of the mass market. Companies make us, the customers, come to them. They spend a fortune in marketing to attract us. We are expected to answer the siren call of advertising and trudge to their store, dealership, newsstand, or now, web site. They even think we want to come to them, that we are drawn to them, moths to the brand.
Does that sound like what you are thinking about your newspapers website? Driving traffic to the website is not enough. Jarvis reminds us that people who find specific content on your website after search, do not even remember your website's brand afterward. They just remember how they found it, i.e. Google. Yet we spend money on SEO, and in doing so we make Google search results even more valuable (which in turn makes Google Adwords even more attractive to your local advertisers.)

So like Google, newspapers need to push their content to their subscribers. But wait, we have a model for that already... it is called a print subscription. Is there a digital form? Yes, an email edition is one way. Content delivered via 3rd party widgets and applications, as well mobile applications is another.

The real test of any model for pushing content out to your audience is how well you can maintain and promote your brand in the process.

But remember that Google works hard to make the content it sends out to us as relevant as possible. That is because if you are sending info to my inbox or mobile device, it had better be damned useful, because that is my personal space. Newspapers have an even greater opportunity than Google, because contextual advertising will always fall short of local advertising.

However, I find many of the e-newsletters newspapers send out to be lacking. What attitude does your newspaper have with the emails it sends out? Is it "get as much out to them as possible"? Do you take comfort in having a CMS that automatically sends out emails without you having to do anything? Are you sending (shudder) AP articles to my inbox? Chances are that your automatically generated e-newsletter that isn't ugly and soulless.

My company is does email editions for newspaper clients, and some email technology companies provide self-service platforms that can be used for the same purpose.

WSJ journalists to learn more digital as specialists get the axe

From Editor and Publisher: A WSJ librarian who conducts research for reports is getting the axe. She had this to say:
"When I asked who will do research for the reporters, I was told, 'No one,'" the memo from Leslie A. Norman, posted on a librarian list serve last week, stated. "The reporters will probably be using a Lexis product called Due Diligence Dashboard...."

She later adds that it cannot replace the "knowledge about how to research using all the tricks we've learned over the years. We figure that the reporters will probably spend 10 times our compensation trying to do their own research."
Initially, yes, there will be time costs to reporter's research work. However, after some time the reporters will adapt, and add one more item to their digital skill set. Despite this, the reporters' compensation however, will not increase.

Running a newspaper business in China

A recent Editor and Publisher post on tougher regulations on journalists in China reminded me that their is plenty of coverage in Western media on censorship issues in China, but not much on the business.

However, the media business in China, especially in print, is fascinating. The points of interest comes down to two things.
  1. Numbers. My company just picked up two publications in China with circulations in the millions. Of course, classifieds and advertising is crowded and is characterized by much lower CPM. Moreover, newspapers have grown accustomed to working with hundreds of media agencies, and maintain a love hate relationship with them.
  2. Regulation and censorship. Maintaining strict control over mainstream media has been Communist Party doctrine since its founding. However, maintaining that control has become complicated as (1) relatively recent commercial pressures means journalists must forever push the barriers on acceptable content in order to attract audiences, and (2) the Internet is damn hard to censor--there is a huge difference in not being able to publish something at all, and publishing something that gets deleted later after lots of people have already viewed it.
For general insight on the media business in China, this guide is a good start. In future posts I will look at the Internet strategies employed by China's newspapers.

How "positive feedback" can work for newspapers

Modern day mass media is characterized as being an "echo chamber" of discourse. By this I mean those news stories about news stories, where some piece of news gets picked up, and somehow reaches some tipping point in coverage that it starts to get bounced around repeatedly by various forms analysis, punditry, and polling data.

Stephen Johnson
pioneered the application of "positive feedback" to this phenomenon in media. Positive feedback to what happens when an event has continually increasing (or decreasing) output until some constraint is reached. Putting a microphone in front of a speaker is positive feedback, as speaker output is fed back into the mic creating an increasingly loud and shrill sound until the system can not handle it anymore.

The same thing happens with stories like Joe the Plumber. In the media, one event, claim, or talking point gets repeated more frequently until it becomes part of mainstream discourse.

What this means for local newspapers
Reinforcing local positioning. Positive feedback mechanisms on the Internet can be used to solidify a more local positioning on the newspapers website. For example, the newspaper can create editorial content, and moderate user generated content such that local themes are constantly reinforced. The goal is to have locally-themed attitudes expressed concisely and frequently that the attitudes in user generated content is consistent with and reinforce those attitudes.

Turning talking points and memes into local stories. Local stories always do better that AP stories. Rather than piping in AP stories in raw form, they can be transformed into local content. This means taking, the AP story about Tina Fey impersonating Sarah Palin, linking to it or previewing it with a Snap-like service, and promote a feature about locals doing impressions of Palin.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Using push-tech for digital delivery

I am an advocate for newspapers using push technologies--applications where the newspaper sends content out to its audience, who have typically subscribed to the content. This is directly analogous to delivery to print subscribers.

It contrasts with pull technologies like RSS for example, where the audience uses and RSS reader that requests (pulls) the content from the newspaper's server.

The strength of push out products is that local advertisers can understand them the way they understand a print ad--it is "going out" there to people's doorsteps, or in the case of email, to the inbox that people check first thing in the morning.

My company has been working on an email edition product for some time. People tend to find us because they want to promote their website, but are surprised when they see how well it works with local advertising.

It is not spam if it is local. AP stories in your inbox are annoying, but stories about your community are useful. The key is to have local advertising focus on time-specific promotions and coupon deals. For example, you have local restaurants place a discount coupon in an email edition for days of the week when lunch crowds are lower. That coupon is placed in content sent to subscribers' emails every morning, and seen when people are thinking about what they will do for lunch.

Newspapers' opportunities in local content and advertising with push technologies will grow as content is increasingly consumed through mobile devices, such as the iPhone and the Kindle. Rather than speculating on what will be, this blog would rather keep you posted on developments as they occur. But needless to say, mobile alerts and some of iPhone applications from the likes of NYT and BBC are only the beginning.

Comparing to Pull Technology
The weakness of pull products for newspapers is two-fold. Firstly, it's tough to brand the content because it tends to be aggregated with other content--how can you tell how the end user is mixing it with other content? Secondly, for RSS in particular, it requires your audience to be pretty web-savvy. If it is tough for the average user to understand, you can be guaranteed it will be a tough sell to local advertisers.

The best thing to do with RSS and other pull technologies in my view is to send out limited stories, and force the user to click back to the website to see the whole story, so they can engage in the website's advertising. Internal advertisements, such as "click here to place a classified ad" are a good idea as well.