Brian Fuller's blog on the media, marketing and content creation

A Simple Rx for Publishing

Posted on | February 25, 2009 | No Comments

It’s getting pretty dire out there. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer is on life support, and Hearst this week put a gun to the head of its astonishing loss-making flagship, the San Francisco Chronicle.

It once was easy (and appropriate) to chuckle at daily newspapers because they were arrogant and in denial for sooooo long, but now we realize that these important civic venues are a blink of an eye away from extinction. (It’s to the point where I’m worried not just because I grew up reading the Chron but because my 95-year-old uncle just passed away and I want to make sure his obit gets in the paper before the paper writes its own!).

So those of us born before the Vietnam conflict are losing a really lovely habit. That’s for another post. But the brands that are the Chronicle, the PI, et al are strong local brands. Sure they had an opportunity 10 years ago to leverage that online but they blew it. Water under the bridge.
It’s not too late. You can’t get local news and information from Yahoo or Google (unless they’re suckling the free-news teet of local news organizations).

So here’s the deal
Kill the print editions. Move the printing presses into a museum for our grandkids (make sure you have an ink exhibit where the kids can actually smell that wonderful smell).

Then get serious about moving online. Jimminy Christmas stop bringing the print paradigm to your site. FYI, memo to Hearst: Hire some kids a few blocks farther into SoMa from 5th and Market. They’re out of work and they know what they’re doing. You’ll be amazed what happens when you lower your average age from 56 to, say, 30 or 35.
Then charge for the news. Read Gordon Crovitz’s piece in The Wall Street Journal this week. “News Wants to be Expensive.” You have NOTHING to lose by monetizing your crown jewels now.

After the coming cuts, you’ll be a sliver of what The Chronicle used to be, but you have the brand and you can rebuild on it. Think Abercrombie & Fitch. (My mother bought my old man a fly rod and a shower head from there in the ’60s–we still use the shower head to this day! Those days are long gone, but the company reinvented itself as a distributor of breathtakingly ugly clothing but made millions in the process).

: Give away locally targeted social media stuff on your site for free (gosh maybe there’s even an advertising play there…you think?) Broad search advertising (i.e. Google) is a commodity business. Local search is where not only consumers find value but advertisers will pay dearly.

Every social media play that’s arisen in the past decade that has nibbled into your local lunch is still broad in scope–it has to be. But you, you’re local.

These are not rocket-scientist ideas. They’ve been bandied about for years, but you have few choices right now. As you ponder life without the printing press (you can write off the museum donation), here are two thinks to keep in mind:

1. Online, you have a highly engaged audience, sometimes commenting hundreds of times on even minor stories.
2. All profits today, like politics, are local.

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No Responses to “A Simple Rx for Publishing”

  1. Loring Wirbel
    February 26th, 2009 @ 10:29 am

    Geez, people wouldn’t pay for content in the flush days of the late 1990s, and Slate got its ass handed over on a platter for trying.

    In 2009, everyone is trying to barter or reduce expenses for everything. I think this idea could be revived in about 2013, when there might be some discretionary money in the average consumer’s budget. But by then, of course, it would be too late.

  2. Dan Holden
    February 26th, 2009 @ 2:36 pm

    Brian, my thoughts: First, the issue at the Chron is fundamentally a management/union dispute taken to the level of tacit threat. That aside, news is not self-supporting. Newspapers generate revenue because they offer a sales channel to advertisers. A poorly written newspaper may fail due to the quality of its reporting, (which is grist for another reply), but today, newspapers are dying simply because the Web is free, and that free access lets anybody be a journalist. The playing field has been not just leveled, but obliterated. But the fundamental need to make a living still exists. So what’s the answer for a journalist who’s teetering on the edge of a paycheck? I think you have already nailed it in an earlier post: a gig. No, not a freelance writing assignment (unless you like that sort of thing), but something to sell through your own blog, web page, IMVU site, whatever the case may be. A good story is still, today, really just another sales channel. It’s not self-sufficient, unless you can compile it into a book and sell it as such, or make a Hollywood movie out of it. The point is, there has to be something of great value behind (or more accurately, supporting) the blog, web page or tweet. I suspect many a good journalist will wince at this idea, because they are used to the illusion that they have been selling stories. But it was true of newspapers and its true of the web today, that words have significant monetary value only insofar as they create pull-through to a sale. Don’t get me wrong, a good speech or great story will still be a hit or a best-seller…in another medium. Daily or even instantaneous journalism will only achieve that reward once in a great while. Blogging or twittering may look like penniless anarchy to the fourth estate, but its really a tool to a different source of income. What that source is, is the real jewel.

  3. Greeley's Ghost
    February 26th, 2009 @ 6:42 pm

    Dan, great to hear from you! And a great comment.
    Clearly it’s working its way out. I was a panel today and heard that wikipedia tripled its fund-raising goal this year to $6 million. They made it and got most of it in $1 to $5 donations.
    There’s a role for micro-subscriptions perhaps in publishing, but the content has to be (obviously) solid, compelling and informative.
    Somehow the toothpaste, some of it, has to be shoved back into the tube.

  4. dark_faust
    February 27th, 2009 @ 11:02 am

    “There’s a role for micro-subscriptions perhaps in publishing, but the content has to be (obviously) solid, compelling and informative.”

    That’s a hard sell to engineers, even at minimal rates of $1-$5/month. As you note, Brian, the key is content. But it’s also the way in which that content is displayed – at least for engineers. By display, I mean in the form of perhaps a java app that presents real-time data, i.e., plotting the power-rate of node specific designs, or maybe a tool that give some useful data. ChipEstimate’s Insight comes to mind, tho I’m thinking of something simpler. Something that drives interest to the site several times a week. Not exactly sure what that “added value” component is for engineers, but I think it is more than just content. Or rather, it’s content/information displayed in a way that is familiar and appealing to a very specific audience.

    Now, if I only had the time to create such an app….

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