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‘Saving’ journalism: Print product = Web digest?

February 7, 2009

Steve Yelvington taught me a thing or two earlier this week about how print isn’t really dead:

In spite of the worst economy since Roosevelt, many U.S. newspapers are still turning profits in the 15-20 percent range, and the U.S. newspaper industry is still turning around 50 billion dollars of gross revenue every year.
Several major newspaper companies are in big financial trouble because they borrowed heavily to finance acquisitions on an assumption that even greater profit margins (over 40 percent in many cases) were going to continue. But do not confuse a poor corporate finance decision with fundamental sustainability of the business.

He points to a pair of recent Alan D. Mutter posts (1, 2) with a similar theme:

…[T]he vast majority of online revenues at most newspaper companies come from print advertisers who are “upsold” to the web when purchasing a print schedule.
It requires a tremendous leap of faith to believe that the marketers who buy print advertising would continue to spend equal or greater sums on web advertising if the publisher eliminated the medium that attracted them in the first place.

Long story short: Print’s alive, it’s just in a financial rut like everything else. The Web is the future, but as of right now, ads online just aren’t as valuable as ads on paper. From an ad sales perspective, print is absolutely worth saving. So the question becomes: How do we put value back in the print edition?

I’ll offer up an answer and it’s something I’ve touched on before: Make the print edition a Web digest. I really think this would work — a lot of people have/use the Internet, but I still can’t swing a dead cat on any given day without running into someone who’s clueless as to what’s going on in the “blogosphere” and elsewhere (“I don’t have time for all that crap,” being the usual explanation). I’ll bet a healthy chunk of those people would throw down a few bucks to have someone give them a rough outline of what’s going on in the tech and online world.

Re-enter the print edition. I don’t think this would work in a daily format (more information overload), but if a reasonably sized weekly print edition could wrap up all the happenings from various corners of the Web, I think people would buy it. If a newspaper hopped on this first, maybe they could even “go back in time,” in a sense, and charge for it online in the first place (Web nerds aren’t going to read it anyway, so market it to people who don’t mind slapping down $5 a month to get it in their e-mail).

Hell, to be completely honest, I might pick something like that up every once in a while. I’m curious, though: Would you?

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