Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Ideas for the Newspaper Industry

A while ago, I posted about re-thinking the newspaper industry. Here are a couple of ideas I had around innovating in that space. I by no means have any background in this industry, but here goes. In my language customer is defined as a person who gathers utility from reading the contents of a newspaper.

Product Innovation: Allow readers to customize their content. This is not a new concept online. Personalized home pages, email alerts, RSS are all commonplace across the web, and if not already should be integrated into the online channel for the newspaper. This will not only help you better understand what your readers are interested, and allow for better targeted advertising, but will also make them better able to navigate the reams of content available.

Second, in the same vein - appreciate the fact that many of your users don't have an interest in online reading, however that doesn't mean that you should be able to provide them tailored content. Printing innovation is evolving rapidly. Why not allow a subscriber to tell you what they are interested in and have a customer newspaper printed for them based on these interests? Then urge them to go online and rate the content that was delivered so that future papers can further be tailored to their interests. (similar to what some companies are doing to tailor music streaming)

Beyond that I see digital newsstands that would allow a user to select from a menu, and have a custom paper printed off immediately on authentic newsprint (like a soda machine that spits out a newspaper). Plus advertising and print layout would be defined on the fly by software. Further - give people a plastic 'remember me' card, so that they can use with other electronic newsstands, of which get updated every time they make a change (similar to an ATM). Once this is attained - next step is partnering with other news organizations to share/combine content. (Give me the wall street journal combined with Boise local business in one paper!)

Business Model Innovation: Why not create a model where the price of the paper to the end customer varies based on how much advertising they are willing to accept. The more ads, the cheaper the paper becomes. It has been shown that people are willing to pay for advertising free niche content. Think pay-per-view or Sirius. This could initially be packages with varying levels of advertising along with various skews towards types of content (local, sports, business, etc) The content selection would then of course help associate related advertising.

Next combine the two ideas. Allow for infinite tailoring of content to what users need combined with business models that allow pricing to vary by customers interest or lack thereof for advertising, and have any advertising sent be targeted. Meet the long tail needs of your readership.

These may seem unrealistic (or maybe not), but in the end its about thinking on the edges. Most of what I talk about here requires technology and online interactions with consumers, but it doesn't rely solely on the online medium for content delivery.

Now when we get to a point where e-paper is almost as flexible as real paper (we are not that far off), that opens up entirely new opportunities.


Phil said...

I had several ideas for a local newspapers' site I was working on that never saw fruition.

First of all, people are very particular when they look through a newspaper. Some read the sports first and skip the rest, some read the business section, then go back to the front page, etc. So why not extend that notion to the web online? Why not allow users to designate the sections they view and the order they want to view it in online through customizable pages? If they're only interested in News and A&E, why not let users set up their customized page with instant, immediate access to those sections?

When it comes to the web, it seems like local newspapers can only compete at the immediate, local level for content. For instance, the Idaho Statesman and the Boise Weekly will never be able to compete at a national level online for news. So why not concede that fact and open up their sites to allow further personalization? I think newspaper sites should allow users to embed rss feeds on their personalized homepage (think pageflakes, netvibes, google homepage) even if those rss feeds were from other, competing newspapers. I think it would go far in the eyes of the public, and that paper could establish itself as a local hub online with access to listings and local content–the only area they have an edge on the web.

I think an important tenet of web 2.0 has proven to be aggregation. The users get what the users want. It seems that newspapers have a hard time getting over controlling the user experience. Other sites are only a click away. So why try and control?

Patrick Lee said...

I like you ideas and I also like what Phil had to say in his comment. As the person at the Idaho Statesman most responsible for actually making stuff like this happen, I can confidently say that we are listening. Changes are on the way and hopefully soon. We want to make our site more of a two-way conversation, pull in external feeds, and allow for a significant degree of customization.

Keep the ideas flowing and you could see them in action shortly. Thanks.

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