Print and the industry’s mishaps

*From the Changing Media Business Models blog

I was really looking forward to Dan Potter’s visit to class Wednesday because I wanted to hear some of his insight into what mistakes the print industry made with the internet and what it’s doing to try and fix those mistakes now. Much of what print newspapers are trying to do now is figure out a way to charge for their online content — something I’m inherently not very fond of as I’ve grown up with the mindset that online is free, but that is slowly changing.

I was curious to hear from someone who has worked during the years before and after the internet’s presence in delivering news. Potter offered a wealth of experience in the business side of newspapers. When the Missourian began charging for its content last September, I have to say I wasn’t a fan. After all, who really was? Something I had been getting for free was now costing me about $5/month. What I was really interested in was how the paper’s paywall would affect its online readership. As I predicted, the readership went down, 30 to 35 percent as a matter of fact. So what is the problem here? The readers haven’t yet come around to the fact they will need to pay for the content eventually.

The fact is that I believe paywalls for online newspapers are going to become commonplace in the next generation.The next generation will be the ones used to paying for content online, not us.

Sure, we can continue to think of traditional forms of revenue for newspapers through ad sales and subscriptions. But don’t we think there’s the possibility for papers to do something else? My question is this: If the way news is delivered went through such a revolutionary change in the last decade, how come the business side of newspapers do the same? What put the industry in the position it is now was the fact papers didn’t act on the new technology. It seems like it was a problem many industries face — a problem with how to adapt to new technology. There’s a few complicating factors here that make a newspaper’s decision hard. The paper has to ask themselves if their readers are ready for the change. Is it the right change? How can we still profit off of this new technology?

Those are just a few questions the newspaper industry I’m sure was asking themselves. It seems now the newspaper industry is finally catching up with the digital technology integral to any publication today. What slowed this adaptation was in part due to the newspapers themselves, and second, because of the economy (the readers, advertisers etc.)

We didn’t get a chance to talk about it in class, but what I’ve been racking my brain about the last few months are other ways papers can make money. Surely there’s more ways than the ad revenue and subscriptions. Why can’t they take a note or two from public radio’s funding model? Or learn how to better tailor their content to a specific reader? A paper could create a staggered subscription plan that provides more services to higher paying members and more basic news access to lower paying members for example. That’s just an idea, but one that I think could be looked into.

I don’t know the answers to many of these questions because I haven’t had a chance to learn the business side of newspapers very well while here at the J-school. Hopefully there’s a type of business class required for each sequence in the future. I mean, we can learn all the skills required to be a successful journalist, but what good does that do us if we don’t know how to create a sustainable and profitable business model at the same time? My hope is that newspapers will eventually catch up in the economic shortfalls they’ve had in recent years and learn how to best take advantage of the technology available to them today — and that hopefully readers will come to value the news content enough to pay for digital subscriptions.

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