Julian Grainger

Head of SEO at Unique

Newspapers – what could they do differently?

After reading this brilliant rant against the established media, mainly News Limited’s criticism of Google, I eventually arrived at the ‘yeah but’ question.

Newspapers have repeatedly struggled with the internet due to a lack of understanding on its mechanics and the power of the internet to substitute them.

They’ve attempted different business models and all the while alienating users due to their constant change.

One such attempt was content subscriptions. Two examples were Reuters and Fairfax. Reuters won because they learned the key is distribution to enhance someone else’s website. Fairfax failed because they thought they were the centre of the universe and tried to make the reader pay. Unfortunately as a business model most choose to follow the Fairfax and most of these attempts have now disappeared.

But it hasn’t been all bad either. Newspapers do get a lot of traffic, their websites do make money from advertising. This in itself is a great platform to begin truly exploring their potential on web.

So what do they have as assets?

  1. Content creation
  2. Established advertising sales capability
  3. A brand that signifies the quality, subject and/or politics of the content
  4. Existing real estate to launch
  5. Existing ad trafficking technology

If you had just one of these assets you’d be on to a winner. So four has to be a winning formula. So here are some things that Newspapers could do quickly, that enhances the web and changes the business model.

Enhance my ecom website

Like Reuters on our share trading website, why don’t newspapers explore how they might enhance ecommerce websites. Book reviews, product reviews, movie guides, news and other content all make for better ecommerce websites. It is expensive to do yourself if you aren’t in the business of doing it. Distribution should not be precious, just add a self service content shop to your own website they every web owner can subscribe to.

Sell advertising for others

APN in New Zealand run advertising networks for other websites. They take too big a cut for my liking but it is the right step in leveraging the trafficking technoogy and sales force reach.

Crowd journalism

If you want to become part of the web, stop editing and open your pages to people to become the commentators and journalists. The reason blogs and aggregators are killing you is that they do not moderate to an agenda or stop real contribution.

Having a comments page at the bottom is not contribution, it’s a sop. Allow people to add their voice to the article and even develop the story for you. Readers are more likely to read your news and follow a story as it is develops. It could be so simple by letting users tweet the story on the page.

Don’t stop aggregation, embrace it

Stop pretending you own the news and start understanding you only have ownership of the paper or web page you print it on. If you change your perspective you will put your efforts where they should be – in distribution. The wider your distribution, the more ways you will find to make money from it.

An example of this is affiliate networks. I have a widget that I sell on my site. I also let others sell my widget on there website for a cut of the revenue. You could apply this to news by opening up your content for others to make money from with their own news site. Properly delivered you could get a fee per impression of their advertising revenue. It works where your brand lends credibility to the affiliates website.

Don’t create content, use someone else’s

Editorial teams now have a great choice of picking up quality stories from blogs and aggregators. Now you just have to sell the adverts.

Think cable

Recognise that you have the possibility of scale unimagined. Stop writing stories for your own mass market publication and write for syndication and delivery on a global scale to particular market niches.  The same as cable TV.

Get into the new portals

Why can’t I see my news on Facebook?

Change the mindset

All up, these are not big leaps but they do require a change of mindset from a market for ‘the paper’ to a market of ‘me’.

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