Newspapers keep trying to apply an old, pre-interactive era model to their coverage.
The great success of the Newsosaur blog is I don’t rewrite press releases. I’d like to tell you it’s because I’m a busy guy, but it’s not true. I’m just old, and I take a lot naps. Why am I going to cut into my valuable nap time to rewrite a Gannett press release about their earnings? I’m going to read their 10-Q, and if I think there’s something new or important to say I’m going to say it.
TA: I live in D.C. and yesterday (Inauguration Day) was like “Newsies” back in the day, you know “Extra! Extra!” People were hawking the newspapers and the Post actually charged readers two bucks a copy.
AM: You know I think that’s not wrong. I think newspapers should be charging more for their product because it doesn’t come even close to paying for itself and it’s a great service. It’s delivered to your house, packaged in a plastic bag, not in the bushes, on time. People used to have milkmen and guys who’d come and sharpen knives, all that’s gone. The only people who still have on your doorstep customer service day in and day out are newspapers.
Hey, if people can spend two bucks to have somebody squirt some hot water and foam in a cup, they can pay two bucks to have a newspaper delivered on their porch every morning. I think newspapers should be raising their prices through the roof. And you know what? If that cuts into circulation, fine. Let’s separate the men from the boys and you can go to the advertisers with a straight face and say “These are core readers who are serious about our newspaper.”
TA: Where do you come down on the question of should papers charge on the Web or not?
AM: My view is they should find products they can charge for on the Web, however, it’s too late to charge for generic coverage. The New York Times went through this whole thing of selling TimesSelect, which was an idea, although I’m not sure that was the right thing to sell…
TA: They should have sold news instead of opinion. They went ass backward on it.
AM: I actually think you’re right. The way The Wall Street Journal does it is make the first couple of paragraphs freely available and hope that you just keeping stumbling into those things so many times that, by golly, you’ll have to subscribe. I think that’s the right thing to do.
The other thing newspapers can do is create subscription content that’s unique to the Web. There are all kinds of newsletters out there that people pay a lot of money for.
TA: This is probably a dumb question—I don’t know anything about the ad side—but if demand for my product is decreasing, I have to moderate my price increases or put it on sale. So if demand for advertising in newspapers has decreased so much, why not reduce rates until you have enough critical mass to make it go?
AM: Oh, that’s a really good question. The fact is that newspapers have extraordinarily expensive infrastructures. The presses, the building, the really large staffs. That investment was made on the presumption that they could generate certain revenue levels.
Newspapers, now more than ever, do a ferocious amount of discounting. What you’re saying is let’s keep dropping the price of advertising until most people are wanting to advertise. But the market point for the case of most want-ads in almost every market in the country on Craigslist is zero. The market point for a real estate ad on Zillow is just about zero. Selling a car? Craigslist, zero. Cars.com, $26 or something.
TA: But you have to assume that classified advertising is just about gone.