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How Newspapers and Publishers Should Reinvent Themselves

The Audit Bureau of Circulations released the semiannual newspaper FAS-FAX report which includes top-line circulation data for all newspaper members for the six months ending Sept. 30.

This is the second reporting period in which ABC is counting circulation differently, so you can’t really compare current figures to previous periods and it doesn’t appear that anyone is really trying (or cares enough) to figure out a way to do it.

Circulation of the top two newspapers, The Wall Street Journal and USA Today, was down slightly compared to the previous six months.  The New York Times' circulation was up 25 percent due to its paid online subscribers. The digital paywall The New York Times erected in March appears to have also spurred an unexpected increase in print circulation.

Most analysts, me included, believe that publishers will not be able to collect enough from digital revenue to offset the declines in print revenue. The economics of the industry and digital media simply will not make up the difference.

Most newspapers offer undifferentiated content which drives down the price of their products to their marginal cost (i.e. the cost of producing one more unit of a good). The problem for most of these companies… as Mary Meeker likes to point out… is the marginal cost for digital content is $0. Content creation is cheap. Very cheap.

The only way these companies will be successful is to differentiate their content and demonstrate that they have something to offer or that they “know something” that you cannot get anywhere else.

This type of content is not cheap. Experts are expensive.

Consumers are not going to buy wire stories and poorly written local stories by overworked writers trying to feed the daily beast. I don’t want coverage, I want knowledge.

Less is more. Think niches.

Insider knowledge that clues the reader into inside information and insight that they cannot get anywhere else is the key. There has to be a reason I will pay for content. Create niches with content from someone knowledgeable about the topic. Don’t man it with a writer who just sources information; find someone who is or could be the source.

I’m not concerned that the writer is skilled at writing or reporting. I will pay for believable knowledge about something I care about, not necessarily about the writer’s ability to turn a phrase. Writing ability is a bonus, but not my primary motivation to buy.

Create personalities or content creators who offer inside information and a demonstrated amount of knowledge about a topic I care about and I will pay for it. It might be news and insight on my favorite sports team (i.e. Nashville Predators) or details on why the stock market dropped today or scoop on what the movers and shakers are doing in the local business community and who is profiting from it.

Prove to me that you know stuff I want to know and I might buy it. Don’t try to right the world’s wrongs. I want to learn something from a source that I trust. 

Want proof?

I subscribe to Stratfor Global Intelligence to stay abreast of political, economic, and military events and their significance. Stratfor sells what they call “human intelligence” on subjects that is not readily available. They provide content and context I can’t get anywhere else.

And guess what… I’m buying it.