Thursday, September 11, 2008
Newspaper Meltdown 11: Is Gannett foolish or wise?
by Larry Geller
The series on diabetes just concluding in the Advertiser is an excellent example of why we still need them around as a daily paper. It was local, it was relevant, it was detailed, it was informative, and it was persuasive. The editors gave the subject a generous amount of space. To the extent that it may influence many readers to change their lifestyle choices, it will literally save lives.
So you’ll see why the current trend to emphasize the paper’s website at the expense of the paper concerns me greatly. Had there been only a website and no paper, there would be less point in doing such a comprehensive campaign to educate the public on what is a major health challenge to so many in this state. The web is full of campaigns. Doing it in the daily paper is what makes it effective.
At least as far as I can see reading the Honolulu Advertiser, Gannett is bailing to the web at a breakneck pace. They are directly investing in and heavily promoting web services. They’re using space in the paper to push people away from the paper.
If it works, then maybe they can ultimately move out from under the burden of print. In the meantime, the paper can be filled with imported and wire-service articles to keep the ads from bumping up against each other.
I was thrilled this evening to play a video of a presentation by Manolis Kelaidis at the 2007 O’Reilly Tools of Change conference in which he demonstrated hyperlinked books. Yes, you can touch a word in his book and it will take some action, or play or speak something. He uses conductive ink. The book knows which words or which picture you have touched. The electronics are in the spine of the book and it communicates with Bluetooth.
So print may still have a future. People do love their books.
At the same conference, Adobe CEO Bruce Chizen said that print will eventually go away. His advice is: “Experiment. Be flexible with your business model. Some of your content, people will pay for rightout, some will pay through subscription, some of them will pay through advertising dollars. Some of them won’t pay for some of your content, so make that available for free. But experiment. And get there quickly.”
So print has no future?
Earlier Chizen spoke about the need for immediacy. While he was referring to desktop publishing as it has evolved to publishing on the web and other platforms, the same need for immediacy pushes people from a print newspaper or magazine to the web.
It’s impossible, for example, to give us breaking news in the paper that was dropped at our doorstep at 4:30 a.m. It was obsolete even as the presses were rolling to create it.
Chizen also said that print does not allow user generated content or allow people to collaborate. Ok, but thinking of newspapers, they are supposed to bring us news, opinions, features, etc., and in my humble opinion, they are basically doing fine with it. On the web we can find user generated content, but a good deal of that (for example, comments linked to a news article) is basically junk. The community can report on itself to a limited extent, it’s true. Like the guy said, experiment, experiment.
In my next post, tomorrow I hope, I’ll show how the Advertiser has been sacrificing its limited print resources to push people onto the web. Are they foolish or wise? They are foolish if they discover the web is a tough place to make lots of money. They are wise if daily papers have no future anyway.
The cost of production on the web is a tiny fraction of the production cost of a daily newspaper. Newsprint costs are up, shipping costs are up. Wouldn’t it be great not to need newsprint any longer? Or beat or investigative reporters, or food editors, or nearly anyone?
A couple of days ago, Ian Lind leaked an email sent by Sandy Oshiro, an Advertiser editor, to a striking blogger, which included this:
Unfortunately, we cannot survive as a company if our financial situation doesn’t change. Actions like the blog strike clearly are aimed at hurting us when we are suffering as an ongoing operation. That is the cause you chose to join.
If we do not win this fight to survive, the community will lose the best journalistic voice that it has, the only one that puts public service journalism at the top of its priorities. I hope you think about the role you played in all of this.
Reading between the lines, though, the Advertiser wishes of course to survive as a company, but as a web-service company. I hope to get back to this in tomorrow’s article. Employees probably sense that they are almost all expendable (except for sports writers, without whom neither a local daily paper nor a website could survive).
If their push to the web is successful, they will need fewer people (hardly any at all). They also won’t need to buy newsprint or to hang onto that giant precision German-made press in Kapolei.
So I’ll keep checking Craigslist for that “press for sale” ad: “lovingly used and in excellent condition, near future transit stop.”
I don’t get why these Einsteins at Gannet and other corporate newspaper chains are not just moving with the people to the web but are actually pushing it by nailing down the coffin lid.
You don’t see the dying music CD industry pushing the “hard copy” off the shelves as more and more people buy their music on-line. They are expecting that years down the road they will have to eventually phase out CDs as on-line purchases come toward 100% of the market But they are still trying their best to maintain CD sales a whatever rate they are in demand.
Why can’t the newspapers do that? It’s still only maybe a quarter of readers that have moved on line (and that may be a overestimate). Yes as the older generation dies off and the now-young who grew up on line become old print newspapers might go away.
But why can’t they be happy with whatever percentage of the market they have now and develop a business plan that actually maintains that entity instead of devaluing it and pushing their own demise.... is it greed or stupidity... or both?
While this is quite a heart breaker, it's also kind of fascinating! I know the New York Times has a huge Internet presence but I wonder just how much stuff they still have in hard copy -- and how much of that hard copy ever gets sold.
Thanks for sharing, giggles on the Craigslist comment, and "Hisss!" to the transit comment. Hey, I'm opinionated. :)