Are Newspapers in the News Business or Fish-wrap Business?

Doc Searls:

“If your paper is worth so much (and it is), and you want to charge for it, how about charging for fresh news, and giving away the stale stuff?”

The ‘more-for-new-less-for-old’ model is a good one. Let’s take a look a couple industries where it seems to work well:

  1. Movies
    If Jen and I want to see the newest Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy right when it’s released (doubtful), I’m paying upwards of $16 at the cineplex. A few months after that, I can rent the DVD for $2 and have a HHGTTG-themed party in the comfort of my own home. I’ll probably wait. The same is true of HBO’s shows, and other cable-only televison.
  2. Apparel
    If I need the hip-est Kenneth Cole or Michael Kors suit, it’s Marshall Fields. If I can wait a season, it’s Off-5th or Marshalls for far less. I usually wait.

Back to the newspaper business. If I want the latest, most up-to-date reporting, I turn on the TV, pick up a newspaper, or more likely, head to a news-provider’s website via Google News. Always free (if not heavily subsidized). If I want to link to their specific article in this weblog, you (the reader) will need either register or pay to have any context.

This is a disincentive for me to link to the newspaper’s articles. Thereby artificially limiting the useful life of the article (what’s being called the long tail).

This is fine if newspapers are actually in the fish-wrap business. In that case, the paper itself is the most valuable. The usefulness is not in the reporter’s words but in the fish, birdcage, or compost bin the paper eventually lines. Not a message I would send to the beat reporters.

A few months back, I heard the president of Schwan’s Foods talk. From his perspective, Schwan’s isn’t in the frozen food business as much as the food delivery business. Just like Amazon & Wal-Mart not being in the retail business, more the logistics and fulfillment business.

These slight shifts in perspective make a huge difference in your implementation and customer relationship.

If newspapers are in-fact still in the news business, the need to explore avenues that customers readers (not advertisers) will finance. Along the lines of Jupiter Research. Otherwise, they’re a history lesson just like the recording, oil, and airline industries.

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