Tuesday, December 28, 2004

The problem for newspapers

Michael Bazeley posts that Craigslist has cost SF Bay Area newspapers $50-60M in classified advertising. Bob Cauthorn (former VP at the SF Chronicle) is quoted as saying:
    The problem for newspapers isn't Craigslist. The problem for newspapers is the newspapers themselves. Specifically, that class of slow-blink-rate executive who refuses to see today through the lens of today....They recite from business self-help manuals and reduce the hard work of innovation and creativity to comic book parables. Meanwhile, they lose market share, circulation and audience. Ultimately these people will cost an industry its future.
Harsh words. I'd say that Cauthorn is being unreasonable, but moves by newspapers such as mandatory registration seem to support his fears.

Newspapers used to have localized monopolies on distribution. Reading the local newspaper was the only way to see local news and local classifieds.

Increasingly, newspapers have to live in a world of decentralized distribution. Advertisements that used to run in a local paper may now run on Craigslist, Yahoo Local, Monster, or eBay. More visitors will come to read local news not through the front page of newspaper's website, but via RSS feeds or aggregators like Google News.

Newspapers know local better than anyone. They know the local advertisers. They know the local news. They are the kings of local content.

Tom Curley (CEO of AP) said it best: "The franchise is not the newspaper; it's not the broadcast; it's not even the Web site. The franchise is the content itself."

Newspapers should take advantage of decentralized distribution. Before, advertising and classifieds would run in a print newspaper to a small subscriber base. Now, newspapers could distribute local advertisements out across many channels, with the newspaper managing the key relationship with the local advertisers. Before, reporters for the paper often find their articles condemned to the back pages, read by only a few thousand readers. Now, a vast audience of readers can discover their work through RSS and news aggregators, pulling readers to the newspaper's website through the strength of their content.

Grasping for the fading monopoly on local distribution will only cause it to slip away faster. Focus on the content. Embrace change.

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