Newspapers, Time To Disaggregate!

  • by , Featured Contributor, December 20, 2007
Jeff Jarvis of Buzzmachine had a great post yesterday about the challenges facing the newspaper industry and the difficult situation that they are in -- driven largely, in his opinion, by focusing too much on big solutions, when the Internet is all about an economy of small. It is well worth a read. On the heels of the closing of Sam Zell's purchase of the Tribune Company, I would like to offer my own thoughts on what they should be doing today. Like Jeff, I also like to opine on the newspaper biz from time to time, having also come from there a number of years ago. I want to offer a bit of a different perspective on what newspapers should be thinking about today, as they try to find their core competencies and competitive advantages -- and ways to leverage them online. My view is that the answer for newspapers today is pretty simple. They should forget trying to find the one thing that they do best and taking it online. No; instead, they should disaggregate their businesses.



Most newspapers don't have a core competency. They have several. They are much closer to vertical monopolies than they are to point solution providers. They are not just news gatherers and reporters and editors. They are printing companies. They are distribution companies. They are ad sales companies. They are direct marketing companies. They are digital media companies. Many are good at all of these functions. Digital competition and audience fragmentation are fracturing the business models that have built these great, vertically integrated companies. While they are clearly not sustainable as they are, they might be quite sustainable in horizontal pieces. Here is my thinking:


  • Local news and news editing. Newspapers are generally pretty good at local news and news editing. The problem is, they can only leverage that capability in their print newspapers and on their Web sites, and the two together are not likely to be able to pay the bills required to run great newsrooms. OK. Why not spin them out as news companies, continue to have them providing news to the print and Web precuts, but permit them to service any number of other businesses, from newsletters to specialty weeklies to global news services? Let them free to do what they do best and to develop new and diverse customer bases.


  • Distribution. Newspaper companies are one of only a few companies that pass virtually every home in their markets once a day and have the capacity to deliver physical products. Many newspapers have had success converting their distributors into alternative distribution networks, delivering everything from magazines to marketer samples to other print news products. Let these folks free to find the best ways to pay for the trunks, cars, drivers and gasoline.


  • Ad sales and direct marketing. Newspaper companies are generally the leading sellers of advertising in their markets. Why sell just for the newspaper? Why not sell for other local media? Why not sell for national media to local advertisers? Why not become local marketing solutions companies, since most local markets have very few ad agencies that have expertise beyond creative and strategy? Let sales sell, and let them fill up their quiver with lots of other media and marketing solutions.


  • Printing. Printing is very expensive, and getting more so. The commercial printing business is growing fast, and many newspapers run commercial printing as a sidelight, to help defray the capital investments in printing and plant and the expenses to run them. Why not make commercial printing the primary role of the operations and make the newspaper just another client? Let the printers print for everyone.


  • Digital. Most newspaper companies have local Web sites and digital teams. While they help the newspaper "go online," many of the things they do go well beyond the normal role of the local newspaper, whether it be in Web site design, email newsletters, qualified lead generation, search marketing, and much much more. How about letting the digital folks free to build the best digital businesses possible, and just have them license the news feeds and leverage the sales company, if they so desire.

Is disaggregating a newspaper company much easier said than done? Certainly. Is doing it probably one of the keys to survival for many newspaper companies? I think so. What do you think?

Next story loading loading..