Tag Archives: monetization

The one dollar newspaper

Call me some sort of radical, but here’s a simple proposal that I think could provide newspapers with a big boost in single copy sales, and profits, too:

  1. On the rack or in the box, your newspaper now costs one dollar. When was the last time you paid less than a dollar for a bottle of water? When was the last time you paid less than a dollar for a cup of coffee? Do you really think the majority of readers who buy single copies are going to stop buying them because now they don’t have to figure out how many nickels they need? Which brings me to…
  2. Your boxes now accept dollar bills. Again, when was the last time you worried about whether or not you had exact change for a soda machine? Don’t make me think about having quarters in my pocket (I never do) or where I can get change. Modernize those boxes so they actually look like machines anyone under the age of 65 might interact with on a regular basis.

That’s it, just two steps to better sales. Add a credit card swiper to the boxes if you really want to get wild.

(This idea came to me while posting a comment on John Hassell’s Exploding Newsroom blog – check it out.)

[UPDATE: Yoni Greenbaum posts a comment with a link to the best newspaper boxes I've ever seen.]

The innovation gap: Your advertising department could use a hand

So here we all are.

In the newsroom, in j-school, in our little corner of the blogosphere, producing great journalism, training great journalism students, and pointing out fantastic examples of both to each other and our peers, doing our best to make the transition to online news.

One problem.

We forgot to bring the advertising department to the party.

Yeah, sure, as journalists, it’s not really our job to figure out how to monetize this stuff.

That’s what we tell ourselves as we post our multimedia projects without templates that include ad positions. That’s what we tell ourselves while print revenue declines — and online doesn’t grow anywhere near fast enough to make up for it.

Alright, so without going too far into whether journalists are supposed to be thinking about this or not, here are five ways to improve online advertising revenue at your newspapaper.com. (How’s that for burying the lede?)

  1. Embrace contextual advertising: Make AdSense your friend. Spread a little around your article pages: It’s like free money falling from the sky and not nearly as annoying to your users as giant Flash banners. And it loads faster.
  2. Go big, cut down on ad positions, and charge more for display ads: Let advertisers feel like they are buying a full page print ad opposite your content. Use giant 300xwhatever skyscrapers that are practically like a sponsorship for the page, and let that be the only display ad on the page. Charge far more for that exclusive spot, and sell it to your big full-page type clients.
  3. Target affiliate programs to relevant pages: Do I want to sign up for Netflix while I’m reading a crime story? Maybe not, but sell me on iTunes and Netflix from your music and movie review pages, and maybe I’ll bite. That goes double for travel site ads on your travel pages. The near future of affiliate ads is widget-based ads where your users will be able to sign up for a service or buy a product without leaving your page. Keep it relevant and your conversion rate should only go up.
  4. Sell more than eyeballs: The page view is dead, but the CPM model of online ad sells lives. That can’t be right, right? Find something to sell to your clients: Relevance, demographics, most popular stories and sections, a chunk of syndicated/wire content that is a huge hit in your town. Dig into the numbers and make something work.
  5. Party together: If your ad sales staff doesn’t know what ad positions are available online, or doesn’t pay enough attention to the news site to know what lots of people are looking at without seeing local advertising, you need to get together, form a committee, have some meetings, and just generally talk to each other. Even if your desk is in the newsroom. Seriously, this isn’t going to work unless the smartest people in the building sit down together and make it happen. If you really think your journalism is going to be affected by letting the ad department know there’s room for a 5-second preroll ad position on all that video you’re shooting, you might be in the wrong business.

So now it’s your turn, of course. What’s the smartest bit of online advertising you’ve seen at a newspaper.com lately — or better yet — what’s the smartest thing going on in online ads anywhere right now that you think we should let our sales staffs know about?

Further reading: Scott Karp’s been all over this territory recently. Start here, and work your way into it.

Flickr Pro and the freemium business model for newspapers

Given the recent developments around our house and the logical uptick in uploading to Flickr, I went ahead and took the $24.95/yr plunge.

What I get for my money: Unlimited uploading, unlimited image storage, unlimited bundling and feeding of images, and all the old stuff that had been pushed out of my top 200 by the new stuff has come back to life, which means you can once again see any and all of my vacation pictures from the last few years. I know, it’s ahrd to contain your excitement.

But the fact that I finally laid down some cash for a service I had used for free for a few years started the wheels turning in my head.

The question, as always: What are your online newspaper readers willing to pay for?

I’ve bitched and moaned about TimesSelect being a backwards way to pull your opinion leaders out of the public forum and hide them behind a paywall, but I’m starting to get over it. After all, it’s the News that Everyman needs, and that stays out in public where he can get at it.

But when we want just a little bit more, there it is, available for a price.

Freemium.

It’s the business model that makes Flickr and Feedburner and WordPress.com viable and perhaps profitable.

Create a tool that millions of users can play with for free, but make sure there are premium features they can pay just a little bit more to access. Make them look cool. Call them “Pros.”

Sooooooo if you’re not a big regional paper with a stable of columnists you can pull behind a paywall, what are the features that can get readers to shell out that little bit of cash?

It’s a damn fine question. There might be easy answers when it comes to classified advertising, but not news content. What exclusive content are you willing to pull out of the hands of the masses?

Will the real online news business model please stand up?

Terry Heaton’s take on the Yahoo/Amigos deal and other attempts to make up for lost print revenue with online advertising dollars turns on this point:

“…the essential problem for all local media companies is their insistence in the belief that a model of scarcity online will generate the kinds of revenue needed to offset losses to legacy platforms.”

For as long as I’ve been interested in this business, I’ve thought local advertising is the way to go at local online news organizations, but Terry’s counting out even that seemingly-obvious model, taking fragmentation and the unbundling of news as a given. Which I do. But I still think branding is a big part of unbundled content, feeds, and widgets.

We give away information so that we can increase the presence and prominence of our brand, get the newspaper’s name out in front of more eyeballs, and draw attention to any and all baby-step innovations we have to offer.

Making money off that is, of course, a long-term proposition.

Some more from Terry: “The longer we wait to aggregate the local web, the more we accelerate our own demise.”

“…aggregate the local web…” Now we’re on to something here.

RateMyProfessors.com – the ultimate student media vertical?

Two weeks ago, a little business brief zipped across my workflow radar at the office – mtvU buys RateMyProfessors.com*.

For those of you keeping up with the college newspaper business, last summer, mtvU bought College Publisher, by far the largest hosting and CMS provider for online student media.

Now, the Viacom subsidiary adds RateMyProfessors to its stable.

Awesome move.

What’s the best vertical service your college newspaper can provide to you readers? I say it’s a professor-rating site, closely followed by a textbook exchange bulletin board of some sort. (Note to self: develop ultimate Web 2.0 textbook exchange site and sell to mtvU for millions.)

Soon enough, we’ll start to see professor rating widgets showing up on college newspaper sites. Very cool, very sticky, and very useful to readers.

So what’s the one vertical your small-to-medium sized newspaper not on a college campus needs to provide to its readers?

Let’s put it this way: What’s the one thing unique and special and specific about your town that you simply should not get outdone on by any other media outlet or service?

*(School spirit disclosure: RateMyProfessors was founded by an SJSU alum, inspired by SJSU profs.)

Your newspaper isn’t MySpace. Should it be?

I’ve often heard conversations about launching a social networking site at a newspaper start with the words “Not that we’re trying to be the next MySpace, but…”

And it always begs the question, well, should we? Should a newspaper-hosted site be the social networking spot for your geographical area?

Here’s a few variations on an answer:

Lucas Grindley says:

“All of us need to take a breath and recognize that newspapers are not the social network. Never have been. Newspapers benefit from the network, but we are not the network. The way it has always worked, and works best, is when newspapers write something so provocative or important that readers tell their friends. And those friends tell someone else. And so on. The newspaper lights up the social network by inserting valuable news.”

A good point, but it sounds a lot like the “blogs couldn’t get by without the source material from big media” argument, if you’re familiar with that thread. I don’t think the newspaper has to *be* the network, but I’m sure the newspaper can host the network and turn a tidy profit.

Mark Potts debunks the “blogs couldn’t get by…” argument by pointing to the active community sites (some hosted by newspapers) in places like Bakersfield and Westport, but then he looks a few years months ahead:

“I firmly believe we’re going to see rise of independent, high-quality journalism sites, undoubtedly created and run by professionals being cast off in the wave of newspaper buyouts and layoffs, that take an I.F. Stone-like approach to doing muckraking reporting on important subjects. We’re also going to see many more entrepreneurial journalistic efforts that use a small staff, unencumbered by high costs of traditional media, to cover communities and subjects.”

Think of Sunlight Foundation and the work New Assignment aspires to do, then think about what your newspaper can do to develop news content that bubbles up from a social networking site the paper hosts. Should we start building a wall between the news and the conversation? The short answer is No; the longer answer involves some consideration of how you’re branding this thing: Is it News? Is it Community?

Mindy McAdams points out some of the theory behind the answers to the News/Community question, bringing Uses & Gratifications into play via a paper on Incentives and Yochai Benkler’s Wealth of Networks:

“We should not ignore social relations as a form of “payment.” If I gain face (or social standing) by doing something, then that might motivate me to do it. If I lose face (or social standing), then that might motivate me to avoid doing it. There are probably some things you will only do for free.”

And that’s an important point: What does a member of a newspaper-hosted social networking site want? Attention? Discussion? A feeling of community? A sense of ownership? That last one appeals to me. Who wouldn’t want to feel like they told the New York Times something it didn’t know?

If you’re still wondering whether the social networking business is worth getting into, check out this tidbit: McClatchy Buys Citizen Journalism Site Fresno Famous.

This is the smart play if you’re operating in an area with a thriving community site: Buy the thing, and bring the users a little closer to your newspaper brand. Now, how are you going to monetize that investment? Is it just a matter of selling some local ads, or are there other values to the body of regular readers you just picked up?

Think about what the value of an online community member is, and drop your idea in the comments… Let’s figure out how to both give and get value out of online conversation.