Monday, December 22, 2008

Saving the newspaper industry

Just about everybody in newspapers readily admits that the current business model isn't working, but few seem to have solutions.

A few alternative models are gaining steam in recent months, such as not-for-profit and crowd-funding, but they're tough to get going with Big Boys like Gannett and the Tribune Co. still running the show.

Then, there was this: Just a few hours ago, Stanford University professor and former New York Times foreign correspondent Joel Brinkley offered up a way out of this mess, with the current corporate structure in place, that just might work. It's at least something that really makes you go "Hmmm" and there hasn't been enough of that yet.

He outlined a really compelling argument in a San Francisco Chronicle editorial yesterday. Yes, newspaper Web content to date has been overwhelmingly free. One reason publishers have been reluctant to charge for Web content, he says, is that such a move would likely just lose customers to other, competing papers.

But what if the newspaper industry as a whole went to the Justice Department "for an antitrust exemption that would allow publishers to collaborate on a decision to begin charging for their Web sites"? He says the price could be debated, and that's not really the issue. The point is getting enough people to the table, and consent from the government, to begin instituting sweeping changes across the board.

It might just work. The most intriguing scenario I've seen tossed out there yet. I hope Brinkley gets his column to the right people who can get the wheels in motion...to at least explore this very interesting idea.

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Thursday, October 2, 2008

Stop the presses?

Director of Social Media at the St. Louis Dispatch Kurt Greenbaum offered some really interesting thoughts in a recent blog entry. Among them: do we really need to print a newspaper anymore?

Think about it, he says. All this talk lately about the need for a new business model - how about an online-only one? Cut the Circulation Department. Cut a good chunk of Advertising. Cut a fraction of News/Editorial and go digital only.

No ink costs, printing costs - no need to own printing presses anymore either.

But then he took a real close look at it, and detracted those same thoughts, saying they wouldn't work - at least in his estimation.

He used various numbers he collected on the Web and came out with a 15 percent profit margin currently for the average newspaper - about $51 million revenue, about $43 million expenses. The new model? Even minus those expenses listed above, your standard newspaper would be 9 percent in the red. Not enough online revenue yet.

Perhaps his ideas could be tweaked and looked at further though.

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