Monday, 27 April 2009

The Press

Charge more? For what?


Alan Mutter has a plan:

Instead of fretting about the all-time record dive in newspaper circulation the last six months, publishers should focus as never before on the quality, not the quantity, of their audience.

That means, among other things, proving the passion and loyalty of their readers by raising the single-copy and home-delivery prices of their daily papers to at least the cost of a venti, double-shot, half-caf soy latte.  They go for $3.90 apiece at the local Starbuck’s.

Serious newspaper readers will be glad to pay the price, especially now that nearly all of them have gotten the message that the industry needs their support to continue producing the product they value.

And advertisers of many premium products and services will gain new respect for a medium capable of attracting affluent, well-informed and passionate individuals willing to spare the price of a venti latte for a newspaper...
The idea of moving upmarket isn’t new, and it could possibly be an antidote to falling circulations.  But to make it work, newspapers will have to re-think their relationship with their readers, and just what they are offering to them.

My fear is that newspaper managers will take the “raise the price” part of Mutter’s suggestion and run with it, while disregarding the (implied) second part: Deliver a premium product, to justify the premium price.  Most newspapers are the generic “cuppa coffee,” but that will no longer do: If I’m to be charged a “venti, double-shot, half-caf soy latte” price, then a “venti, double-shot, half-caf soy latte,” had better be what I’m going to get.  And if you want to charge me $3.90 for your newspaper, that paper had better be worth $3.90 to me.[1]

Mutter cites The Economist as a successful premium-circulation publication.  I would note that The Economist’s article-to-advertising ratio is one of the highest among the newsweeklys.  Its stories are detailed, accurate, and well-written.[2]  Its “interests” are eclectic and wide-ranging, and go beyond those of its competitors.  In short, it commands a premium subscription price because it is a premium product.

But do newspaper managements have the vision, the stamina, and the guts to do what’s needed to deliver Economist-like quality?  With stock prices at record lows, are they prepared to tell their investors that the time has come to improve the product, improvement which is going to take money?  Are they willing to give up several-quarters-worth of bonuses, in the interest of turning things around?  Are they secure enough to step back, admit they were wrong, and then do what it takes re-hire the experienced reporters who they just finished laying off?

And after all that, are they wise enough to take the last step:  To realize that, for the “serious newspaper reader,”[3] the facts come before the opinon, the information comes before the spin, and that an important part of “premium” value is to be seen to be making an effort to report honestly and accurately.  And, based on that understanding, to make the editorial decisions necessary to keep spin and slant out of the news columns, and to really report “without fear or favor,” regardless of agenda, political friendships, or civic boosterism?

Can they do all of these?  Are any willing to try?

Elsewhere (via IP):
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[1] Appeals to charity or duty (as, “the industry needs their support to continue producing the product they value.”) only work for a limited time. Sooner or later, value must be delivered.

[2] The Economist does have a point-of-view, but IMO they also make an effort to keep it from affecting the accuracy of their reporting.

[3] at least, for this reader

Posted by: Old Grouch in The Press at 18:26:57 GMT | No Comments | Add Comment
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