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

The Future of Newspapers–Spreadsheet Edition

Posted on | June 24, 2009 | No Comments

Really interesting piece from Peter Kafka in All Things Digital today in which he talks with Outside.in CEO Mark Josephson. Josephson shares some spreadsheet numbers on a model of a future city newspaper.

It can work. It will have a smaller staff and no printing press, but Josephson argues it can work.outside-in

I buy his philosophy almost without question. I’ve been thinking about this problem from a slightly different angle: How can assignment-editors today cover events far away important to their readers in an era of tight or not travel budgets.

Here’s Josephson’s story from Kafka:

The pitch: Outside.in wants to help local news sites by supplying them with a river of extra content created by local bloggers, Twitterers and lots of people who don’t even think of themselves as content creators, like people who post real estate listings. The local site is supposed to aggregate and filter the stuff and sell ads on it. The people supplying the content get more exposure via links from the bigger site.

My only question about his numbers: 40 million pages views a month is rareified air for existing newspapers today. Maybe he’s factoring in sure-to-evolve growth on online news consumption, but that number is reserved for the top tier. Take a look at this sample (below) from Compete.com. These are rough uniques per month for three of the biggest papers in the land. If you assume 2-3 page views per visit (industry average) The Times is well north of Josephson’s numbers. The Post as well. The L.A. Times would have trouble hitting that each month. The rest of the city dailies? Good luck.

newspaper-uniques-copyIn addition, the CPMs, while realistic, are dreadful. And my bias here is I’m just not sure what kind of advertising works going forward. Banners are dead. “Engagement advertising” is a nice spin but works only for top-tier consumer brand managers. Direct-response is effective but the content associated with it is generally not the kind of content that lends itself to the kinds of future newspaper sites we’re thinking about here (or maybe tastes change completely; who knows).

So, bottom line: I like Josephson’s thinking. It’s clearly where things are headed. But I think we need some equally thoughtful work on the advertising side. Most of the conversations I see focus on the evolution of the editorial content but very little on the advertising content, which, in the digital age, could be very robust.

What’s the future look like to you?

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