Wednesday, March 4, 2009

You Want Outside The Box? Try This One On For Size!

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before…

“Soon, everybody will be reading newspapers on their portable electronic devices.”

No. No they won’t.

Not soon, and not for a long, long time either. If ever.

And “everybody?” No chance.

The electric toothbrush hasn’t made the manual one obsolete yet. And I wouldn’t wait for it either.

Newspapers will be around in the current, inky “analog” format for a good 50 years or more.

Why do I say this with such certainty? Because a printed newspaper is a SUPERIOR product in almost every way to a “newspaper” you can get for free online.

Let’s count the ways..

1. It can “download” probably 10x the content in pictures and text of even the fastest computer and T1 connection. Flip. You just “downloaded” 8 stories, 3 charts, and 5 big pictures in about 1 second. Flip. You just did it again. The browsing of the newspaper is the most under-rated aspect of “reading” it. Ho do you find interesting stories you would otherwise never read? By having them catch your eye. This doesn’t happen on a website.

2. The newspaper does not require batteries, a wi-fi connection, or a computer. It works on the bus. It works in the bathroom. It works on the beach. It works and works and works and works.

3. You can share pieces of your newspaper over lunch with friends.

4. The newspaper travels very easily. Under your arm, in your handbag, even tucked in the back of your pants a golf tournament or baseball game.

5. The newspaper will not break. It does not require a password.

6. The newspaper has wonderful secondary uses. Flyswatter. A dry seat on wet grass. Fish wrap. Spray paint protection. Fake volcanoes for science projects. Packing material for boxes. And on and on….

This wonderful product, is NOT going away. Trust me.

It’s like what people would say about my industry, radio. “It’s a walking dinosaur! It’s not long for this modern world!”

Oh yeah? Until they outlaw the car, and that thing called a “commute” then radio is gonna still be a pretty spiffy thing to have.

Will more people be reading newspapers electronically? Sure. But only if newspapers continue their folly of providing this information for free.

It’s their death spiral, not mine. So they can ignore what I am about to say as they wish.

They are cutting off generations of future newspaper readers, because they are not trained to read a newspaper. They cherry pick what they want via the internet. They don’t even know what they are missing, because you have enabled them to make your actual product – a physical newspaper - irrelevant.

Your product is not “news.” News is all around these days, and of varying quality. Your product is a news-PAPER! A tangible, foldable, browseable, cheap, voluminous daily source of information that you cannot get from other places. With coverage, connections, reporters, columnists, and traditions that cannot be duplicated.

Kids won’t stop reading. This is fallacy. Not every young punk kid is a text-messaging zombie who watches 80 hours of YouTube a week. Plenty of them are smart, well mannered, and like to read and learn.

Meanwhile, more nimble dot-com’s come along and grab your hard fought content, slice it, dice it, comment up on it, repost it, email it, and generally rape that content for absolutely nothing!

Stop the madness. Just print the paper. Get out of the internet. Keep your core readers, and grow the next generation. Make no apologies. Chalk it up to an experiment tried, and a lesson learned.

You know, once upon a time, McDonalds experimented with selling a “McPizza.” I kid you not. They got smart, and stopped that pretty quickly.

Slim down your journalistic approach to suit this new sustainable reality. Close down far flung foreign offices that track the regional conflicts in East Krapistan. Let an international service do that. Besides, those low level conflicts have been going on forever, and rarely if ever affect your actual readers. You are not National Geographic. Get back to what matters in your hometown.

Newspapers have a tremendous edge over every other quasi-journalistic website out there. It’s called “printing presses.” No website would open a print version of their “newspaper” and invest in printers, ink, delivery trucks, and the like.

This is your world. Live in it. Dominate it.

If you MUST have a web presence, then make it no more than 3 pages. Front page of the site is one good story for free from each major section. Then teaser stories for what’s in the print version. One page for coupons. One page for Classifieds. That’s it. You could staff the web portion of your newspaper with 6 people.

If blogs want to transcribe a story word for word and post it, then god bless ‘em. Have fun. They’ll never finish doing that to your whole paper in a day. And there’s another one coming tomorrow. Good luck keeping up.

You have a constitutional right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. You don’t have a right to read free newspapers on the internet.


  1. Great Post Czabe...the Wall Street Journal has increased readers in recent years. They have content, including...wait for it...A SPORTS SECTION. That's right; new this week, but they don't reports scores or other information you can get on the web. NO, they post predicted scores, probabilities, and researched articles outlining statical anomalies in sports. AWESOME!

  2. Czabe, you forgot to mention that a newspaper won't randomly need to reprint (reboot) itself at any given moment.... And you won't have to put a finger on the sports, business and classified sections at the same time to open it either..

  3. I think you are slightly wrong about the web precense. It isn't that you limit content or shut it down. You CHARGE for it! Just like buying a paper out of the box or a subscription, you charge people to read the news just like you do in print. If your paper uniquely covers your city/town/state, your readers will pay for it. The people running newspapers should stop being pussies and learn how to make money by charging people online.