Cold Type

No slug is safe in today’s newsroom

Print is king, but not by divine right

with 2 comments

Is it just me or whenever the subject of money and online news and information comes up, the phrase “print is king” inevitably bubbles to the surface?

This just recently happened, in fact, in an office e-mail message with a link to Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits, offering “5 Tips for Building a Successful Hyperlocal Site,” an idea we’ve discussed off and on for months and may finally attempt to execute later this year. The five tips, or “lessons learned,” are from Michelle Ferrier of the Daytona Beach News Journal‘s now defunct, and each is worth its proverbial weight in gold. But the fourth one especially caught my eye.

“If you don’t have a sales force that knows how to sell your product, find them or train them — quickly,” Ferrier wrote, and then added:

“Print was still king. The newspaper advertising management didn’t know how to sell this ‘online community thing’ as a part of the media mix without cannibalizing its cash cow. Instead, the site was sold as an add-on to the print buy instead of as a hyperlocal buy to a new market of smaller advertisers. It cost too much money to deploy a sales team for the little bit of money garnered, they reasoned. The development team was never allowed to develop the classified ads and the smaller display advertising market using automated tools instead of human door knocking.”

I can’t help but wonder how many newspapers are struggling with those same issues because we still genuflect at the print altar? Print is still king, even though the number of print subscribers keeps declining while online audience figures are climbing to the point where they’re much greater or even dwarf the print numbers.

And print gets to keep wearing the crown as long as it pulls in 95% of the industry’s revenues, or if you’re really cooking with gas on the digital side, it might be 90%.

Ferrier suggests that it’s a nut we can crack if we can find a way to sell to smaller advertisers with human sales reps knocking on doors rather than relying on customers to find and figure out online systems designed to “help” them design and place ads on our sites.

I think she’s onto something. If online ad rates remain a fraction of print rates for years to come, the industry has no choice but to try to figure out how to sell a large volume of banner ads and the like. Automating that process is an admirable goal and may be necessary at some point to get that volume, but I can’t help but shake my head in disbelief that we think we can use Web widgets to sell ads right out of the gate. That might work for classified ads or business directories, but I personally believe there’s nothing like the power of shoe leather and face-to-face meetings whether it’s in ad sales or news reporting.

Sadly, on both of those fronts we have fewer and fewer resources to hit the pavement these days, so I think we’re increasingly relying on the phone and e-mail to connect with the people in our communities. Ironically, we’re then launching hyperlocal Web sites that cater to smaller communities that we don’t know as well as we think we do. On top of that, we then hope that the social media tools on those sites will allow people in those communities to connect with each other and us, but even that takes time and effort to develop. Time isn’t something we have a lot of these days, especially when companies want to see a quick return on the money they just spent to build those hyperlocal sites and roll out those social media tools.

But shoe leather is something we can put into these ventures. That’s how we built the print model, the king. He didn’t inherit that exalted status from the heavens. We put him on the throne.


Written by coldtype

July 14, 2009 at 1:01 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

2 Responses

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  1. Sadly, you are right on the mark. The decision makers will not put the resources needed for success. They still see it as competition not a symbiotic ad force.


    August 9, 2009 at 8:04 pm

    • Well said. I think it could be the eventual undoing of newspapers, or some of them. I keep hearing the Houston Chronicle has made the mindshift necessary to succeed with online revenues and that it’s working. Haven’t had time to check into that, though.


      August 10, 2009 at 5:26 pm

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