Newspapers lose the web war.
February 1, 2002 9:06 AM   Subscribe

Newspapers lose the web war. While newspapers recognized the risk the web posed to their core business, they often erred by forcing their new online ventures into the mold set by their pre-existing business model. A look at what made newspapers succeed or fail online from a Harvard Business School professor. (Warning: business-speak; via CNet.) Has your local newspaper done a good job on the web?
posted by mcwetboy (8 comments total)
That's a bad interview -- his biggest complaint appears to be that newspaper web sites didn't organize themselves like pure-play dot-coms.

He also makes a song and dance about successful newspaper websites being "separate" from their print analogs. Ridiculous! The actual experience of the development of newspaper websites was starting out different -- different content, etc. -- and being forced to end up a base of exactly the content of the print edition, and now the big thing is literal duplication in proprietary PDF format not only of the content of the print edition but of its layout, pagination, and ad copy.
posted by MattD at 10:01 AM on February 1, 2002

Most local newspapers have sold out to Real Cities. It's terrible, just mostly AP releases -- hardly any good local news. Kind of like the whole "local DJs aren't local" phenomena. Independent magazines/newspapers have faired much better, like Pitch Weekly and The Stranger.
posted by geoff. at 10:20 AM on February 1, 2002

Sadly, my local paper is the San Francisco Chronicle, an embarrasingly bad newspaper for a major American city. The crappy online experience does nicely match the crappy print version, though, so brand consistency is tip-top.

Whenever there's a good article in the Chronicle, it's almost invariably from my real hometown newspaper, The Washington Post. The Post's site is pretty good, but they get lazy in some spots. For example, the opinion section could really use some design luvvin'.
posted by kirkaracha at 10:50 AM on February 1, 2002

That's not my experience, MattD;

Of course your mileage may vary - we all don't do things the same way - but in our case, we had to fight tooth and nail to get out from under story shovelware to web and to add additional exclusive content.

That additional content is paying off; aligned with niche subjects and markets, we're getting a very comfortable pageview buffer of evergreen material, and the opportunity to sell advertising to companies that would ordinarily have no interest in online newspaper advertising.

My compadre and I were sitting here nodding in agreement through the whole thing.
posted by Perigee at 10:55 AM on February 1, 2002

> Warning: business-speak

media sources that can let you customize an advertising message around rich contextual context

The Harvard b-school is notoriously on the wrong side of the river.

All of these sites are separated from the core newspaper business and all of these sites have been successful by building new markets with new sources of revenue.

Are they making money?


> we're getting a very comfortable pageview buffer of
> evergreen material, and the opportunity to sell
> advertising to companies that would ordinarily have no
> interest in online newspaper advertising.

Are you making money?
posted by jfuller at 11:21 AM on February 1, 2002

The Trib can't decide what they want to do with their online version.
"Do we mirror our paper version, or do we have online-only content? Do we provide free archive access, or do we charge for it?"
Dissappointing, really.
posted by me3dia at 12:23 PM on February 1, 2002


Well... no. A bit. Not enough to call the whole project into the black, by a long shot. And (IMO) it's going to be rough to get newspaper sites to turn a profit, because of the need for Local eyeballs. To get that many Local readers online to a news site on a regular basis, Internet usage is going to have to hit around 80-85% in the advertising area.

My bet - for another decade, anyone who advertises in a local newspaper online is tossing their money down the dumper. The readership locally is just not there in enough force to make an ad worth the cost.

That being said, since I like getting a paycheck, we've been working hard on developing multiple revenue streams. Banner ads just don't do it alone, and the truth is the force-buy of online classified when someone calls in to sell something is a Huge part of the bilge pump that keeps us above water.

The niche products are working - we're bringing in seasonal and local ads that we never would have had a chance to pick up without them. Our Shore Guide, for example, gets us advertising from property rental places and tourist traps that simply would not run in the A- B- or C- sections of even our regular newspaper. When we provide content on a subject people will search for and make use of, we're miles ahead of simply the recitation of general local news. Niche products target specific audiences - and gives us some serious push to advertisers who are seeking venues to that audience.

It ain't heaven - but we'll take what we can. And really what it all comes down to is we're holding our own in brand recognition against the Philadelphia Inquirer in our own markets. Our site has pummeled them in recognition by the NAA. We're small, but scrappy - when the geniuses in the front offices finally get the business plan figured, we won't have been left in the dust. Till then, its just satisfying to stand toe-to-toe with one of the bigger Knight-Ridder papers and not get pasted.
posted by Perigee at 12:24 PM on February 1, 2002

My local paper 'San Jose Mercury News' has a very decent presence on the web. But for national news, I depend on NYT and WP - that's not very different from the print world.

Basic problem with online newspapers is probably that advertisements can't support the cost of putting a magazine online. And as other people on this thread pointed out, advertising is the main revenue stream for the media. Also, most of us are too used to the idea of good content available free over the net to fork out good money for web based newspapers. Only WSJ seems to have made the idea of priced content work.

I guess one way that mainstream newspapers can bring down cost of content development on the net is thru- bottom up content development - asking users to submit local events, reviews etc. and letting users rate the content (kind of a combination of the content model that, plastic, follow). Of course there is a possibility that the quality of content will be skewed and to a certain extent compromised.

Washington Post appears to be working towards a portal model (their latest MR questions were very interesting in in terms of the brand associations that they seem to be seeking) and with sections like Camera works etc. they are utilizing the web in a very different way than other newspapers out there. But can they make it work purely through advertisements? I dont think so. I think print will have to subsidize web versions until we get used to the idea of paying for good content online or the newspapers develop alternate differnet revenuestream.

Mr. Gilbert, the interviewee seem way too preoccupied about finding support for his ideas about 'disruptive technology', to be entertaining. It was nice when Clayton popularised the phrase in the context of 'Innovator's dilemma', now things seem to be getting a little out of hand.
posted by justlooking at 1:14 PM on February 1, 2002

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