How Newspapers Can Turn Problems Into Profit

Steve Rubel on Digital Communications

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Newspaper publishers are facing a perfect storm thanks to three megatrends: rising inflation, America's growing green conscience and disruptive technology. To succeed in this era of great change, they need to think about how to make lemonade out of these perceived lemons. Unfortunately, so far, they haven't. Here's my advice.

RISING INFLATION: As gas prices rise sharply, so do distribution costs. To compensate, many newspapers have announced they are significantly increasing their hard-copy newsstand prices. However, that's a 20th-century reaction to what is a complex, 21st-century problem.

Steve Rubel
Photo: JC Bourcart
Steve Rubel is a marketing strategist and blogger. He is senior VP in Edelman's Me2Revolution practice.
What they should be doing instead is using this as an opportunity to put a hard date on when they will abandon print altogether, close down plants and migrate completely to a digital paradigm. They need to have faith that their brands and quality editorial product will encourage readers who haven't already migrated to do so.

GREEN CONSCIOUSNESS: Americans are increasingly becoming very aware of their environmental impact and what they can do to mitigate it. Millions are taking the simple step of cutting print subscriptions in favor of (slowly) going completely digital. Is this a threat to newspapers? Of course, but it's also an opportunity.

Advertising -- particularly outdoor and print -- also creates tremendous waste. Newspapers can take the lead in going green and in the process create new avenues for advertisers to play up their related social-responsibility programs online. It's a win all around.

DISRUPTIVE TECHNOLOGY: Last but not least we have the growing popularity of speedy 3G-enabled smartphones and devices such as Amazon's Kindle e-book reader. Newspapers have invested heavily here, creating smartphone apps and pushing content for Kindles. But they don't go far enough.

Newspapers have made it hard for readers to get what they want without jumping through hoops. For example, they syndicate story summaries in their RSS feeds (even to paid subscribers). This forces readers to visit the website for the full content, and when they do, they have to trip over interruptive ads and interstitials.

Make it easy for loyalists to get what they want, when they want it, and they will remain just that -- loyal.
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