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Dead trees can live … maybe

December 15, 2008

My last post went from a discussion on how journalism school will change in the future to what a successful journalism business model might look like.

As I noted in the comment thread, I’m not exactly a business whiz, but I do have a few ideas bore out of observation and logic that might kick-start some discussion if you’re all up to it.

Niche sales. Maybe it’s a little presumptive to say that there will always be people who prefer a real paper to an RSS feed or blog, but for the time being it’s true. People who can’t afford an Internet connection, people who live where there is no Internet connection, people who fly a lot (this could change soon) — these are all areas where papers could find success if they targeted each respective niche.

Collectible sales. Nov. 5, 2008 may be the last sellout in American newspaper history. Obama’s win proved that people are still willing to buy papers, so long as it’s not just a paper they’re buying. People bought papers that day either to hang up on their walls, or auction on eBay. (Matter of fact, I wish we had a way of knowing how many people actually read the papers they bought.) Obviously we can’t publish news of an Obama win everyday, though, so what are we left with? Well, most big metros, at the very least, have extensive archives. Open up an online store where people can browse for historic back issues (fall of the Berlin Wall, Sept. 11 attacks, etc.) and buy merchandise related to those dates/issues. It’s not exactly news, but it could fund news.

Personal collectible sales. This is where the local papers come in. Jane Q. Soccermom may not have been so enthusiastic as to scale a light pole and sing “Don’t Stop Believin'” in the streets after rushing out to buy an Obama Seattle Times paper, but she’d probably shell out a few bucks for a clipping of her kid’s little league tournament. What if papers made it possible to cut-and-paste Web headlines and stories onto page layouts and then order them? Maybe I’m just a dork, but I think that could sell.

Newspaper = AP for blogs. I mean, if newspapers are concerned about hyperlocal blogs not “getting it right” or trampling all over the concept of ethics, why not produce content to sell to them? Blogs have the readers, newspaper reporters have the expertise.

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