Maybe Legacy Publishers Could Save Themselves By Thinking Outside The...Website

I have a soft spot for newspapers, and simultaneously believe that almost all of them are so badly run they’re killing themselves. By now, you’d think they’d have figured out the Internet, but most of them seem to agree the Internet is the thing that’s killing them but it’s the thing that could have saved them, if only...

If only...It gets tired to hear that after 10 or 20 years.

So watching The Washington Post’s efforts with its digital efforts, regardless of what a money pit it might have been/still is/will become/ interests me because at least it looks like it’s trying to figure it all out, along with a very small handful of other newspapers that are the usual suspects. That paper has gone through wrenching changes in the last decade which immediately puts every new endeavor into a financial Petri dish, so the fact it is pushing forward is worth applause.

In a video interview with, Vijay Ravindran, The Post’s chief digital officer, says some pretty smart things about creating a new Post Web presence that acknowledges people sometimes want a video source of news, and that finally notices that putting the Post videos where the people are, rather that assuming they’re all going to meet up at your site, is a wise way to distribute news, and make some money. Watching Ravindran speak, I was struck by the simplicity of what he laid out as the newspaper company’s methods and goals, and once again couldn’t help but think that from coast to coast, some mighty venerable news brands are just about out of breath and just about out of time.

A few weeks ago, I was talking about local markets and the Internet with Gordon Borrell, the founder and CEO of Borrell Associates, a big player in the local ad business, and sponsor of an upcoming local online advertising conference in New York. He has a remarkable theory that the trouble newspaper companies ran into with the Internet was that the barrier to entry was just too damn easy.

He pointed out that way back, many of the nation’s most powerful TV station groups—Scripps, Tribune, Gannett—grew out of newspaper companies. But, he says, because the TV (or radio) business demanded investment in big antennas, transmitters, studios and on-air personalities, those big publishing companies had to pay more attention than they did to some stupid Website where they could just paste up today’s paper and forget it. There was too much to lose.

That barrier to entry thing goes both ways. It lets earnest start-ups start up, but it also absorbs the shock for a lot of slackers, which, I’d have to say most newspapers (and most TV stations) have been. “Don’t know, don’t care” has seemed to be the attitude at a lot of established news organizations, until it was way too late.

Borrell thinks a bit like Ravindran and The Washington Post. The way to success, finally, is moving away from being tethered to home page orientation and getting into doing those other things you know, that, as is often the case, you don't always know you know.  Borrell, for one, thinks, TV stations and newspapers could have leapt into the local online video advertising business-- selling, producing and syndicating local online video advertising.

From a business standpoint, that’s what legacy local publishing organizations know something about, and in the case of video--in the form of advertising and content--it’s still a new enough offshoot of the Internet that there’s still a shot at success. That’s the amazing thing about legacy publishers. They’ve gotten so old they’ve forgotten how grand life was when they were still the best looking person in the room.

2 comments about "Maybe Legacy Publishers Could Save Themselves By Thinking Outside The...Website ".
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  1. Jonathan Mirow from BroadbandVideo, Inc., February 20, 2013 at 3:41 p.m.

    "Borrell, for one, thinks, TV stations and newspapers could have leapt into the local online video advertising business-- selling, producing and syndicating local online video advertising." Wow - so the guy with the funny glasses says it, so now it must be true? Where was he in 1989 when our company was showing newspapers how to create an online presence? (Yes, pre-internet). I've pitched online video advertising to the newspaper industry 'til I'm blue in the face. To quote one executive from a big newspaper media group "Don't make our reporters deal with video, it will make their heads explode" (2008). These dinosaurs deserve the fun they're having now - because they are simply too engrained in traditional thinking to understand anything beyond ink on paper. Smaller, more nimble creatures will continue to eat their lunch. The market that TV stations could've dominated in terms of online video production / advertising was ignored in favor of ratings - which now decline steadily in the face of Netflix et al. Sorry, the future is NOT rosy for these institutions - and I don't even have witty glasses! (Ok, I do have a big nose...)

  2. Jeff Bach from Quietwater Media, February 21, 2013 at 10:59 a.m.

    To a certain extent I agree with JM above. But I keep coming back to what I see as fragmentation. In my opinion, the vast majority of entities online do not attract enough eyeballs to make an ad-based model viable. The web makes it possible for each viewer to search and find the niche they want. The downside is that each niche may only have ten people. That model just won't work for an ad-supported model.

    An ad-supported business model needs how many views per month? a million? ten million? For a local news source, something less than a MAJOR metro area paper, I just don't see that happening. Maybe CNN can garner that many eyeballs. Maybe a half dozen others, but that leaves 99.98% of the rest out in the cold.

    I continue to see some sort of subscription-based model as being the most viable. Consumers still should/have to/want to pay for the content they consume. Credible, vetted, dependable content gathering and creation is NOT FREE, not as long as the business is employing people to go out and get it.

    If some sort of micro-payment technology could be linked to an annual online subscription that each reader could purchase from a newspaper, then I could see a reader (me for example) looking at any "page" of an online newspaper and scanning a headline, an image and maybe a first sentence or first few seconds of a video. Clicking on the "read/view more" link would decrement my account subscription by some micro amount and I could then read the rest of the article that I had judged to be worth paying for.

    Has this been done and I am missing it? Is there some fatal flaw in this simple logic? Right now the lack of a micro-payment feature is stopping it all in my view. Newspapers need to get with Visa or MC and come up with a rate plan for this sort of micro-payment model and get on with it. I'll be there's lots of us willing to pay to support our favorite writers, editors and online publishers.

    I guess this would also wreck the advertising industry.......hmmmm.

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