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:
- Print is not a transitional finance engine. Print is a long-term necessity.
- Print is not easier for advertisers to buy. Print works.
- Advertisers understand the web. Publishers do not.
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.