So the American Press Institute has declared a national emergency, grabbed the newspaper industry by the lapels and summoned its leaders to a hotel ballroom the API campus in Reston Virginia.
The API Summit on Saving an Industry in Crisis happens on November 13th. Here’s what they’re saying about it:
The summit conference will be a discussion on the theory, practice and application of techniques of corporate renewal. Facilitating the discussion will be James B. Shein, Ph.D., a former turnaround CEO for several companies and currently clinical professor of management and strategy at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. Prof. Shein will lay out for us:
- The predictable path to decline that our industry is taking
- How to determine where an organization is on that path
- Strategies for reversing the decline.
All discussion will be on a non-attribution basis. At the end of the day, participants will have a greater understanding of available tools for engineering the renewal of our industry, and a shared vision of the way forward.
Lauren Rich Fine of paidcontent.org, recently made the intriguing point that, until newspapers start forcing advertisers to take a hard look at interactive, the industry will remain locked in the same 10-20% range for interactive revenue as a slice of the whole pie. She suggests killing the print edition, as painful as it will be, to be the bitter but necessary medicine that will start the healing.
I wonder, though, if there isn’t a bridge to that future that allows for a hybrid print-online model that would be worth discussing at the API summit. So, with all the hubris I can muster, herewith is my straw man for the publishers in Reston later this week.
1. Combine all your staffs. If you have an interactive team, a community newspaper team, an online entertainment product team, a TV interactive team and a print newsroom, put ’em all together. You’re going to need a multi-disciplined content team for the plan I’m proposing.
2. Pour out a 40 for your beloved daily broadsheet. Here’s your new product mix:
- Daily free tabloid, limited to 48-60 pages. (Editorial/Ad mix 50/50 or 45/6555) It’s not time to give up on print. The readers you have aren’t ready and lots of your advertisers aren’t ready. By printing a Monday-Friday news tab, you continue to serve their immediate needs, while keeping a significant piece of the print revenue pump flowing. Assuming you do a good job of it, and you actually pick up readers through a combination of smart editorial focus and zero-friction for pickup through the free price-tag, you could very well get into the kind of scarcity-pricing that is common in television and radio. When demand from advertisers increases, you don’t add pages; you raise the prices on the ad spaces you have.
- Weekly Magazine, paid, 100 pages or more. (Editorial/Ad mix 60/40) This is where you publish your best print work. Think of this as a Newsweek for your local market. It’s the publication that doesn’t get recycled at the end of the day; it sticks around for a week (or longer). For years have been telling daily newspaper publishers that they don’t have time to read a paper every day, that they felt guilty dumping so many unread papers. This solves that, providing the insight and perspective that only a major newsroom can, at a print frequency more attuned to the needs of modern readers. (Big question to be solved: how to carry inserts, a huge part of weekend revenue. Should this be a standard magazine size, poly-bagged, or would a stitched, tabloid-sized publication work? Need to balance the revenue needs with the shelf-life objectives for the publication.)
- Significantly enhanced digital presence. A 24/7 digital newsroom is a given. Everybody who is in your newsroom – with the possible exception of the page designers – works for digital first. This is where you will meet the promise to your local market of being the preeminent local news organization, reporting news and data in whatever digital form your market needs it, including enhanced phone delivery, consumer-searchable databases, open APIs into your reporting and datastream, and an aggressive program of outreach to the rest of the local web in your market. And, yes, web sites. Not just one uber-site (though that’s welcome), but also a family of niche-focused thin sites that meet the unique needs and desires of your markets. These thin sites, built around events databases and social media tools, can be run by a single reporter-blogger who’s passionate about a topic that ma
Even writing this, I can think of a dozen arguments for why this is not the perfect answer. Good. Because these aren’t times for perfection. These are times for experimentation. The readership trend and the revenue trend are both heading in the same direction. They’ll eventually hit zero if we do nothing. But with the right attitude and a little bit of risky behavior, I believe both of those trends can improve.