Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Going To Tabloids And Charging For Using Newspaper Websites

In the last couple of weeks, the New York Times has had comprehensive articles examinihg whether newspapers soon will be charging those who use their websites, and also whether they should be downsizing themselves into tabloids, which the Jersey Journal is about to do.

Winston Churchill once said that nobody but a fool ever wrote anything without getting paid for it, and on this principle I feel the nation's great papers, including the New York Times and Los Angeles Times should join the Wall Street Journal in charging users of their web sites at least nominal amounts. With circulation dipping, do they have much choice?

But I do feel that not everything by far ought to be included on the website. There ought to be some continuing advantage to taking the full paper. And, initially, the charge should be fairly small. Only in time, as the idea catches on, should the charge be slowly increased. In time, papers have got to spread out, as the NYT has done wikth its national edition. The LAT has gone the wrong direction, I believe, in slicing its national edition back to almost nothing..

As for tabloids, I don't believe in them. The LAT has already moved timidly in that direction, with a tabloid Calendar once a week. I don't think it's been wise.

In the long order of things, there is no way to maintain quality with a tabloid. Papers need space to present outstanding detailed articles, like the King-Drew expose.

Yes, holding back the future is hopeless. But it has to be channeled. We can't give up our future by doing too much.


Blogger Dennis Mosher said...

If newspaper web sites had generated even a fraction of the advertising revenue that was expected during the heady days of the internet bubble, we wouldn't be having a conversation about charging for newspaper web site access.

I sold print and internet advertising for the Times and other LA newspapers, and the short answer is that newspapers have failed to make their web sites an advertising profit center.

Consider the different dynamics of print and internet advertising. Newspaper publishing is an exclusive club open only to a handful with the capital to run the presses and manage the news gathering resources. A newspaper competes for advertising and readership with other members of this exclusive club.

On the other hand, anyone with a bright idea and time on his hands can launch a web site. A newspaper web site competes with every other web site for readers and advertisers. That's a big challenge for newspaper publishers who (frankly) are not used to intense competition.

People actually welcome the lavish advertising supplements in the Sunday paper. But the annoying popup ads on most newspaper sites are hated with a passion.

When you are in a shopping mode, there are web sites designed specifically to satisfy your hunger for deals, discounts and comparative product information, i.e., buy.com, pricegrabber.com, ebay.com, etc. The typical newspaper advertising section has nothing to compete with this.

Hell, the ubiquitous Google can give you all the shopping information you could conceivably need.

But when it's news you crave, there are an abundance of sites designed to give you lots and lots of news -- including newspapers.

The point of this is that the newspapers have tried to run their web sites using the old 19th Century newspaper business model, and it's not working.

Online shopping is an interactive experience, whereas print advertising is ink on a piece of paper -- static, just like the banner ads on most newspaper web sites.

I'm not optomistic about the survival of the great newspaper companies. The newspapers are so tradition-bound and tied to the past.

Remember the hoopla when the NY Times broke down and published its first COLOR picture on its front page? It was just a few years ago. Every other paper was already doing it.

Why was the NYT holding out? Did they think color photography was a passing fad? Did they think the public would eventually tire of color and demand a return to black and white?

This resistance to change does not bode well for the future of newspapers. Convert to tabloid format? Much more radical change will be needed if this industry is to survive.

-- Dennis Mosher

3/23/2005 7:57 PM  
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