Monday, November 22, 2010

Newsweek-Daily Beast and YourCommunity Paper-YourCommunity Website

In my November 3, 2010 post I agreed with Larry Kramer, founder and former CEO of CBS, that a possible merger of Newsweek and The Daily Beast made sense. I disagreed with Mr Kramer's belief that print was a transitional product.

Eight days later, Newsweek and The Daily Beast announced their merger. The New York Observer broke the news, and the  Daily Beast announced the merger, followed closely by a Media Blogger post in the New York Times.

The blogosphere is actively discussing Tina Brown, a Daily Beast founding partner and to-be editor-in-chief of the two publications (e.g. Felix Salmon, Jeff Bercovici, Jack Shafer, John Hudson). It is also debating the strategy (e.g. Mark Coatney, Nicholas Carlson). To me, this merger, whether it is successful or not and whether Ms. Brown is successful or not, is a sidebar to the feature story.

This merger validates that media companies of the future will be those who serve both the reader seeking answers and the reader seeking serendipity. New York Times columnist David Brooks shares my point of view in his November, 18 column.

My recent columns have spoken about the opportunity to serve people when they are open to discovery, not on-task. Brooks speaks about the opportunity to offer "counter-programs against the ceaseless ephemera of much of the online world and offers things you will remember, a magazine that doesn’t endlessly chase buzz, that isn’t coastal urban journalists writing ceaselessly for each other, that doesn’t aim for insider-is horse race gossip when covering politics, that doesn’t chase the same upscale liberal audience that every other media outlet is chasing."

Brooks reflects on a past generation when "poor families scratched together their dollars to buy an encyclopedia, to join the Book of the Month Club, to buy Will and Ariel Durant’s 'Civilization' series or the Robert Maynard Hutchins’s Great Books." Brooks says that those families believed that through reading publications such as those just mentioned and magazines, such as Harper's Saturday Review, Time and Newsweek, they could "gain access to a higher realm they might someday join."

He posits that it was a society with a shortsighted mindset that led us to our recent economic bubble burst and that this society is now ready to return to a more serious mindset that thinks long term and adopts fundamentals such as: All people should study and know and be familiar with the best that has been thought and said. Consume what you can afford, not what you desire. Put less emphasis on the pursuit of self esteem, the belief that "you are wonderful the way you are." And no longer consider aspiring to a common culture to be boring and not all that hip.

Newsweek-The Daily Beast and others, such as in Print, are using two distinct mediums to serve both the short term and long term mindsets of a national audience. Community news organizations can focus their efforts to do the same.

One of my companies is experimenting with ways to give its print product distinction by serving the long term mindset. It is enrolling community members who are passionate about the deeper meanings of life to provide nonfiction and fiction based on their avocations and experiences. Such stories are not time-sensitive, not answers to immediate questions, and appear in print first, available online to paper subscribers and to online-only subscribers after print publication. These stories respond to the local community's readiness, as Brooks says, to engage with publications "that transmit the country’s cultural inheritance and its shared way of life, that separates for busy people the things that are enduring from the things that aren’t."

This experiment has been well-received -- people like the variety of columns and opinions and opportunity to know their neighbors in ways not apparent on the streets and in community gatherings. And it is also generating a devoted and growing set of readers who opt to not to purchase the printed product but are willing to pay for online access to this content that goes beyond timely who, what and where.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Print works. Advertisers understand web.

Larry Kramer, Founder and Former CEO of CBS recently commended the Daily Beast for considering extending its publication into print.
In 1997, one of my start-up companies began publishing local news just online. In 2003, we decided to extend our product into print and introduced two subscription weeklies into two separate market areas. We recognized that our local advertisers wanted us to report on their events live, online. At the same time, they purchased full page ads in our competition, those legacy newspapers that had published print products for decades. We wanted that revenue. Five years after introducing on our own papers on newstands, we purchased those legacy papers, to rationalize a market that was saturated with more newspapers than advertisers would support.
Mr. Kramer says “The Beast has done exactly what it has had to do to build a new media brand, which is enormously difficult to do in today’s content-overload environment." He says they did so by creating original content, curating the best coverage on topics that rule the day, engaging its readers through blogs, discussion and social media, and adapting to new distribution platforms. Ours was a similar approach.

Mr. Kramer uses Politico as an example of an entity that has wisely merged old and new media to finance the transition to new distribution platforms. He says that print is currently a necessary revenue generating-medium. He says ” This isn't because the print product is better, it’s because it’s easier for advertisers to buy. They understand it. They still don’t understand the web. This will change, but in the meantime Politico, a new media company, is financing its growth on the web by using good, old fashioned print.”

I disagree with Mr. Kramer's rationale for why print is important to news publishers. I contend that:
  1.  Print is not a transitional finance engine. Print is a long-term necessity.
  2. Print is not easier for advertisers to buy. Print works.
  3. Advertisers understand the web. Publishers do not.
My October 21, 2010 post focused on the fact that the Internet has changed the world. Tomorrow’s successful news publishing companies will be those that design their content and offerings around two different products.

One product will feature content targeting the reader who is at leisure. This content will be presented in display format (print on paper now, print on pad-device in the future). A reader at leisure is open to serendipitous discovery. Editorial content that analyzes, contextualizes, enlightens and entertains can draw such a reader's attention. This is why advertisers will continue to pay for ads in this format. History attests to the fact that they work. They are not buying them because it is easier than buying web ads as Mr Kramer contends.

The second product will feature content targeting the reader who is on-task. This content will be presented in search format (posts on web browser now, posts on mobile devises in the future). A reader who is on-task is searching for timely, specific news and information. This reader is seeking content that quickly provides who, what, where answers.

Tomorrow’s publishers will understand that advertisers can also be content generators in this format. Advertisers, given unfettered, unfiltered access to post their news and information alongside posts by professional journalists can also serve the on-task, searching reader. And by doing so, publishers will tap into a wealth of new revenue. Because space for this content is abundant, it can be less expensive. Because it is less expensive, the advertiser will represent smaller companies. These advertisers are not typically purchasing print advertisements. These advertisers recognize that they can compete, not by being clever and loud, but by serving those searching for news and information.

Contrary to Mr. Kramer's contention, the display format is not a transitional product. It serves readers at leisure and leisurely reading is a human pursuit that will not vanish. As display content moves from printed paper to digital pads, it will become richer, allowing new depth and interactivity not possible with print. A small number of advertisers will pay more to draw this reader to their interactive ads.

In the search format, Google, eBay and Craig’s List have proven that many small advertisers will pay a little to have their answers available when people are searching. Publishers can learn from these three web leaders and collect small amounts from many, thus creating important and new revenue. Advertisers understand the web. Publishers have to learn.