I keep coming back to this: if the people, through their behavior, keep telling newspapers that they don’t want the paper part of the paper anymore AND the paper part of the paper is enormously expensive to create and distribute, then why doesn’t some market take a leap and try going all digital?
Yes, there will be financial downsides at first, but especially in the many markets with only one daily newspaper, this risk may be minimized by the fact that local and national advertisers still need to reach that market, and the audience that newspaper organizations gather remains uniquely strong when measured against other mass media television and radio.
Martin Langeveld, former newspaper publisher and VP and current hive-whacking mediablogger, recently took a look at the numbers behind such a leap. The short version: newspapers won’t get rich in the short term, but they just might survive.
This week, Langeveld digs deeper into what it would take for one market to make the leap, and introduces us to a publisher in Cedar Rapids (who will be familiar to readers of this blog) who just may be laying the groundwork for his own leap forward.
The strategy sounds simple: Transform the business from its manufacturing roots into a digital enterprise. I proposed a version of it in my second-ever post, back in September: “To have even a chance of survival, the mindset of the industry needs to become: We are in the business of publishing information content continuously on our web sites; every 24 hours (for now, and this may ultimately change to once or twice weekly) we gather some of that information into a printed product and distribute it, but our business is focused on and driven by our online operations.” And I’ve explained it again more recently when I explored the economics of a daily that morphs into a web-first weekly or twice-weekly, and previously as part of my Six Theses, and elsewhere. I’m not alone on this. “Digital is first” is at the top of Steve Outing’s list of suggestions for the industry as well; others have hammered away at it; it should simply be on everyone’s list…
Can any of this be even discussed in an organization demoralized by waves of layoffs and cutbacks? It won’t be easy, obviously, but it has to be done. A newspaper organization that chooses not to adopt, embrace and fully implement a strategy of becoming a digital enterprise will remain a manufacturing enterprise with a product that fewer people want or need, every day. Perhaps it will be remembered one day by a nice brass plaque on the historic printing plant.
Langeveld doesn’t yet get the attention of some of the usual suspects (Jarvis, Yelvington, Mutter, Potts, Rosen – all big thinkers worthy of your feed reader), but he should. He combines an insider’s experience with a sharp, analytical mind, and adds a willingness to consider the radical notion that there may yet be a future in the news business.