SIXTH IN A SERIES

Parade President: Reports of Death of Papers May Be Greatly Exaggerated

Innovations Could Still Allow Them to Reverse Their Fortunes

By Published on .

Randy Siegel
Randy Siegel
NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- According to the pundits and prognosticators, newspapers are in a death spiral and doomed to extinction, just like the dinosaurs.

But what if these wags are wrong? What if newspaper companies reinvent themselves, innovate aggressively and discover new ways to increase revenue and market share? What if -- to paraphrase Mark Twain, who once read his own premature obituary -- reports of the death of newspapers are greatly exaggerated?

What if newspapers expand their editorial franchises and launch portfolios of print and digital products that meet the different information needs of their consumers?
What's the future for newspapers?
Sixth in a series
The days of a one-size-fits-all newspaper are over, as seen in Norfolk, Va., for example, where The Virginian-Pilot produces more than 20 print products in addition to its daily newspaper and three rich, targeted websites.

What if newspapers start charging for the newsroom content that portals and online aggregators pilfer and profit from without paying a cent? Maybe the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's circulation is holding up so well because it keeps most of its online content behind a pay wall to prevent cannibalization of its paid circulation.

What if newspapers increase their investment in sales and marketing talent and superserve their advertisers with creative ideas and terrific service, integrating their print and online assets? The Seattle Times' sales force offers holistic print and digital solutions for their customers, along with direct marketing, market analysis, media planning, promotions and design capabilities.

What if newspapers invest in sophisticated research tools to quantify how print ads can move product and provide superior return-on-investment value to advertisers? If advertisers can measure their sales, newspapers can do more to measure their impact at the cash register, especially with three out of four readers saying they rely on newspapers to help make purchasing decisions.

What if newspapers learn from MySpace and Facebook and create social-networking sites like The San Diego Union Tribune just did to engage their different audiences around consumer interests? Newspapers have a huge opportunity to leverage social media to facilitate local connections around shared passions.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Randy Siegel is president of Parade Publications.
What if newspapers hire more-provocative and -diverse voices, including high-school and college students, who can help create compelling content for their respective communities? The Boston Globe's Teens in Print effort is a compelling model for others to follow.

What if newspapers embrace the rapidly changing forces that are fragmenting all media, then forge ahead with fortitude instead of complaining that "the good old days" are over? All traditional media companies are struggling to redefine themselves in this Digital Age. While major-market newspaper circulation has declined 15% since 1997, prime-time TV viewership has declined 46% in the same period, and the top 25 consumer magazines have lost 23% of their circulation.

What if some of these what-ifs yield positive results and newspapers discover a winning road map for the future?

Thanks to massive changes in consumer behavior and a punishing recession, newspapers are clearly being challenged like never before. But despite disconcerting drops in ad revenue and circulation, 100 million Americans still read newspapers every week, and the industry generates more than $40 billion a year from advertisers in the U.S.

If newspapers can monetize the reach of their combined print and online audiences, the future looks even better. Among McClatchy newspapers, for example, total aggregate audience grew nearly 10% last year. Newspaper companies own the No. 1 local website in 24 of the top 25 markets in the U.S. No wonder the three major internet giants -- Google, Yahoo and Microsoft -- have made substantial investments in newspaper alliances and partnerships. They, too, recognize that this is not an industry on its deathbed.

With their newsgathering capabilities, dominant print and online franchises, and strong brands, newspapers still have time to reverse their fortunes, re-establish their relevance and survive. But they must evolve rapidly.

Fortunately, an increasing number of newspapers of all sizes are rethinking their strategies and reengineering their organizations. The pace of product development and entrepreneurial initiatives has never been greater. If a few newspapers are successful, others will follow their lead, and the newspaper industry will show that reports of its own death are greatly exaggerated.
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