Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Newspaper Solution and Commercial Print Sales

This morning I found the folks who could fix the "newspaper problem."

The leader of this manifestation of the new model is Leonard Witt, Robert D. Fowler Distinguished Chair in Communication at Kennesaw State University and the chief blogger at He coined the term, "Representative Journalism." The first two paragraphs of the first post follows:

Representative Journalism: A definition

Representative Journalism, a term coined by Leonard Witt, aims to build sustainable journalism one small group at a time. As mass journalism markets unbundle and become niche markets, news operations, if they are to survive, will have to join the niche movement rather than fight it. Rather than think in terms of a circulation of, let’s say, 100,000, they should think in terms of 100 niche markets of 1,000 each and form membership communities around those niches.

The centerpiece for each membership community will be the news and information tailored to each community’s needs, with a reporter and editing support devoted specifically to each community of 1,000. Online social networking, interactivity, face-to-face events will all be used to build group cohesion. Read the full post here

In response to the post, I said, (as of 6:49 am EST, it was waiting moderation)

I apologize for the over long comment, but I think you are really on to something.

I like to use the word “tribe” instead of community. Communities imply location as a primary characteristic. Tribe includes location but also captures movement, allegiance, temporary alliances and networks of power.

An under appreciated property of print is that it often function as a token for a tribe. A tribal token is one operational definition of a “brand.”

In New York City, there is a tribe of “people like us” who buy the NY Times because that’s “what people like us do.” Carrying the TImes on the subway was a signal of tribal membership. Just as having an iPod was what “people like us, do.”

When the mass market newspaper first emerged, the most vibrant newspapers were either organs of a political tribe or of various immigrant tribes. At the time, each tribe spoke their own language. As industrialization advanced, the language of the tribes at the top of the publishing pyramid prevailed. When steam driven printing came on the scene, the mass market newspaper arrived.

It is plausible to believe that with the new print technologies that are now coming on line, print newspapers will regain their place. Once it is practical to do versioned newspapers for each of the communities/tribes you describe, new revenue streams are made available.

I believe that once all the pieces you describe are put in place and streams of revenue start flowing, Representative Journalism will scale. Local ads for local organizations/business can be a pretty easy sell.

But only if they can see their ads in printed newspaper that is present in their local environment and is seen as the token of “people like us” . “People like us, shop in stores like this.” The web ad is the “nice to have” for a local business. The print ad is the “must have” to make the sale easy.

I look forward to a good discussion.

The Internet is Old. Print is New.
At my other blog, Print in the Communication Ecology my viewers include newspaper people, both writers and publishers, so I've been following the "Newspaper Meltdown" there. Digital printing is here. Over there I fight off the internet blablablablabla that defines the public discourse. By overlooking the power of the printed piece those folks can't figure out how to make money. Not a surprise to me, but there is still too much noise for people to get the signal.

The very short version of how newspapers can make money is:
1. Use the web to identify fans.
2. Make stuff that the fans will gladly pay for.
3. Sell lots of local advertising to local business for local distribution in Print.

I ask all our print industry viewers to carefully consider No. 2 - Make stuff that fans will gladly pay for. The easiest stuff for any newspaper to make is Print stuff. That's where we come in. Books and posters for loyal fans.

The organic growth opportunity for Print
Develop and sell marketing programs for local business and non profit organizations.

The sales scenario on the ground:
Newspaper ad sales persons: NS
Commercial print sales person: CS
Local business owner: LBO

Either NS or CS : Hi, how's business?
LBO: So, so. But we're holding our own, thanks.
NS: "Have you ever considered putting an ad in this?(Shows him the newspaper)
LBO: Oh yea, I see that all over the neighborhood, but I haven't had the time to do it.
Anyway, how much does it cost?
NS: We've come up with a really easy way to advertise. If you give me your business card and can tell me what makes your business special, I can take from there. It costs $x/per Y.
NOTE: "I'll get back to you with the price" loses the sale.

LBO is not going to think about this again. And if you call to remind him, it will be nagging. Then he'll figure out reasons not to answer your calls, because he doesn't have the time to focus on it.)
LBO: That seems ok.

After the ad runs.
NS: Hi, did you see any action from the ad?
LBO: I guess a little, but it's really hard to tell.
NS: Why not let me give you a mounted display sheet to put on the counter. See how that works. Maybe some reprints and put in a couple of coupons.
LBO: Thanks. What's it going to cost me?
NS: No charge. I know that if our ads work for you you'll buy more. Oh by the way, let me introduce you a person I've worked with in the past. Mr. LBO meet Mr. CS. CS is with the XYZ Printing Company. They specialize in marketing programs for small businesses like yours.
LBO: Oh, nice to meet you. But I can't afford any marketing programs. Especially now.
CS: Makes sense. . . . . Blalbablablabla . . . . Would you mind if my folks took a crack at what a marketing program might look like for you? No charge or $X.
( The trick is not to make money, but to get some skin in the game. Around $20 should do it.)
LBO: What do I have to lose?
(He takes $20 out of the cash drawer and hands it over.)
Repeat as needed.

The hard parts and an easy way to solve them:
1. getting newspaper ad salespeople networking with commercial print sales people.
2. Figuring out the comp. But appropriate referral fees should be easy. Something like,the newspaper person gets a small one time piece of the print sales and visa versa.

The easy way to fix this is to have the same person sell both ad space in the newspaper, ad space on the newspapers website, commercial printing and integrated marketing programs for small business. Given that our sales people are usually much better than newspaper ad people, I think we should do it.

Maybe someone at the top of the pyramid should give a call to the AP, while those in the middle could get in contact with a TV or radio station. All these folks most definitely need a solution provider.

A little tough love for print salespeople
Stop the whining and get in touch with the publisher of the closest local paper in your area. The pitch is "I would like to talk to you about a much cheaper way to sell ads for your paper." How could he not take the meeting.

Just so we don't forget: Newspapers and textbooks
Sooner or later, some newspaper some where, is going to realize that one of the best businesses around is the textbook business. Then they will realize that they have a long tail of content that has a marginal cost of zero. Then they will realize that the best way to teach history is by special editions of local history that are slices from 50 to 100 years of their newspapers.

If I were a textbook printer, I would call those local newspapers, sooner rather than later.

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