Credit: Shadowgate
Credit: Shadowgate

When Tom Foremski (a former Financial Times journalist) had some ideas on how newspapers can reinvent themselves, he was trying to address both falling subscriptions and declining ad revenues. He suggested that newspapers needed original content worth paying subscription fees for, and should develop a hyper-local focus to get that content:

Newspapers should own their local stories. For example, San Jose Mercury or the San Francisco Chronicle should “own” Silicon Valley stories. They should be breaking all the best Google stories, Oracle, Apple, etc. That would be something people would pay for.

Well, assuming that a newspaper is successful at owning their local beats, they still need to adapt their subscription and ad models to new media. Basically, if a newspaper can own its local beat, it has an opportunity to completely reinvent itself through better targeted ads, social media, and mobile engagement.

Hyper Targeted Ads

As a paying subscriber, a newspaper knows a lot more than my IP. They know my billing address, which means that they can show me ads for businesses in my own neighborhood.

This, in turn, means they can open up a variety of speciality ad rates that will make it affordable for a mom & pop to advertise “in the paper.” They know exactly how many people in that neighborhood subscribe to the paper, what content they interact with the most, and can target them accordingly.

Social Media & Added Value Subscriptions

The first thing that newspapers need to do is build community around their paying subscribers. This means the usual sweet of social media features such as user profile, opening comments, etc. This can help to both increase reader loyalty and page views which means more ad revenue.

Basically, as readers interact, debate, and “share” stories that interest them, page views rise and so do impressions. As a logged-in subscriber, then, I should be able to easily tweet and digg stories with a single click.

Going Mobile

If, as Foremski points out, papers are already thinking in terms “mobile journalists equipped with notebooks, cell phone modems, and cameras,” then the next step is thinking in terms of mobile subscribers — not mobile readers, but mobile subscribers.

First, by sending readers mobile alerts on topics they want, papers wouldn’t only be increasing engagement and offering more value on subscription fees, but they’d also be boosting impressions. As mobile readers click through on an SMS to view the story, papers further increase page views, and therefore impressions.

In fact, if their social media feature leverage the Twitter API, they might even consider using Twitter as an SMS service provider.

And to build on the idea of hyper targeted ads, they could also use location based services technology to show mobile subscribers ads that are relevant to their current location. Imagine a mom & pop restaurant reaching out to a mobile user who is not from that neighborhood, but happens to be in it.

The Watchdog Business

Newspapers are more than just content publishers. They serve an integral role in a healthy democracy, so there is more hinging on their survival than mere jobs and tradition.

What newspapers have to realize is that an edition printed on paper is not an integral part of their business model. Rather, their in the business of (1) providing authoritative information so that they can (2) sell subscriptions and ads. Web technologies enable them to disseminate said authoritative information, so they simply need to adapt their subscriptions and ad models to these new media.

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