UPDATED 15:57 EST / MAY 04 2009

Unsolicited Advice for the Newspaper Industry

image They say it’s generally not a good idea to start off a conversation with a potential client by insulting them. I say that because part of what we do here at SiliconANGLE is help out companies that are in need of social media life-coaching, in a manner of speaking, and what I’m about to say might not be taken too kindly to by those in the newspaper industry.

The newspaper business is in the scrape it’s in now because of their own stubbornness and willful ignorance. I’ll circle back around to that in a second, and why I believe it’s not just a generalization but a good rule of thumb in reference to that industry.

The reason why this is the topic of conversation today, though, is that the glimmer of hope lit up in most of the ‘ink-stained wretches’ eyes today on the leak that Amazon will be soon announcing a big-screen version of it’s Kindle e-reader.

The consensus from Valleywag to MediaMemo seems to be that while it may seem like an attractive avenue of survival for newspapers, it wasn’t intended to them, and it isn’t likely to keep most of them alive.

More importantly, for those currently ensnared in the death-spiral, as Peter Kafka put it: “It doesn’t matter how you deliver the information if you can’t afford to generate it in the first place.”

That means that companies like The New York Times and others might be inexorably doomed. Companies like the Dallas Morning News or Hearst that have a little bit of runway left might be able to change their fortunes.

Before I Offer My Advice, Here’s Why I Have Little Sympathy…
image As I was paging through the coverage on this Kindle release, I came across a post by Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten at TheNextWeb. He relayed a conversation he had with an Old Media publisher:

At one point he asked me what magazines and newspapers I subscribed to. I thought for a moment and had to admit that the only magazine I read is Wired magazine which I buy at a newsstand every month. Then he asked me where I got my news from and I explained that I am subscribed to several local and global news sources online. Did I pay for any of these, was his next question. No, I didn’t, I answered. He smiled, and said:

“Don’t you feel guilty for getting all that content without paying for it?”


Today Reuters reports (for free) that Warren Buffett is giving up on the newspaper industry. In an incredible reversal of fortunes he goes so far as to say that “the reeling industry may never recover because it lacks a sustainable business model”.

Wow. That is what most newspapers are reporting about most Internet companies. No sustainable business model? Really? There is more: “Twenty, thirty years ago, they were a product that had pricing power that was essential,” said Buffett. “They have lost that essential nature.”

Yes, they lost it, and are proud of it.

The editor I spoke with proudly proclaimed that he didn’t get a computer until about a year ago. He refused to check out Twitter, thought blogs were just a waste of time and regarded email as a mere nuisance.

Then it hit me; I couldn’t find an answer to his question because it was the wrong question.

I don’t feel guilty for getting my news online just as I can only assume nobody felt guilty for trading in their horse and carriage for an automobile in 1910. I’m sure the local farrier wasn’t too happy about the whole thing but blaming the customer surely didn’t help.

As I’ve recounted in the past here on these pages, I used to work as a consultant for the newspaper business in the vain attempt to evangelize New Media business models. Again and again, I ran into the attitude in newspaper businesses large and small that the dip in their subscribers and ad numbers was merely a bump in the road, this Internet thing was a fad, and it would come back around.

I understand why they’d think that – it’s a business that was largely unstoppable for almost 300 years, and many of the business I consulted for were around for at least half of that.

What they failed to realize was that even though they built their business on a revolution in technology, i.e. movable type, they failed to consider that a similar revolution in technology could wipe them out.

We’re Offering Our Services Again
I don’t expect that a lot of Old Media publishers are in the demographic of the SiliconANGLE readership (though I’ve been surprised before on the types of people who read our words), but for those that may be reading – it’s important to realize two things about adapting to the modern media landscape.

1) Whether you’re publishing to a device like the Kindle or to the web, your content can’t be limited to press times and news cycles.  The new reality is that the web is always on. People have an ambient awareness of world events at all times through social networking tools.  To that end, traditional and newer style media outlets play an important role in that landscape, but you’ll be just as irrelevant as you are now if

PlaticLogic’s eReader – Kindle Alternative

your online or e-reader publication comes out once or twice a day.

In essence, your website or electronic publication must be a living document. Think Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

2) Publishing to new formats, be it the Kindle, the iPhone or the Web, is not just a viable way to extend the lifecycle of your business, it’s a necessity. This is the most important thing to remember while considering how to make it work and avoid bankruptcy court. 

You need to lower your overhead, think of ways to multi-purpose your content for video, audio and printed word, and think of yourself less as a publication, and more of a media outlet. This is how all serious and successful New Media publishers view themselves.  Even if they don’t properly grasp how to translate their content to other media types, they all (without exception) regularly integrate multiple media types into their publication routine.

This means integrating video, audio and images where appropriate with their printed word.

Put another way, publisher, if you figured out a way to magically without changing any part of your printing process include videos and embedded background information, wouldn’t you do that?

Guess what – that technology exists, and its name is the Web.  It’s up to you to figure out how to leverage that technology into sustaining your business past tomorrow.

[If you want help with that, tune your Twitter account to @furrier and @rizzn here at @siliconangle, this is a topic we broach fairly often and have been known to drop advice on from time to time.]

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