Bill Wyman published an insider’s view of the failing newspaper industry at Splice Today. We’ve heard most of the reasons he presents, but they bear repeating in light of our ongoing discussions here about what to do about it.
1. Consumers don’t pay for news. They have never paid for news.
Remember â??shoppers,â? the poorly designed throwaway publications filled with tacky little ads? Daily newspapers are high-end shoppers. They spent a lot of money on original content to class up the operation and give people a reason to ask for the ads to be delivered.
If paywalls are the online equivalent of a subscription, then this does bring into question whether or not the paywall model can work. But since ad rates online are a fraction of newsprint rates, this creates the conundrum for a viable online business model.
2. Newspapers are the product of monopolistic thinking.
These monopoly positions created a dynamic by which the only thing a paper could do wrong was to offend or, God forbid, lose a reader. The prospect of offending readers, or having subscriptions canceled, penetrated deep into papers and became a comic clichÃ©, famously satirized by Berkeley Breathed.
Most newspapers in the U.S. arenâ??t watchdogs, and most of the rest donâ??t spend an inordinate amount of time being watchdogs. Most papers are instead lapdogs, and the metaphorical lap they sit in isnâ??t even that of powerful interests like their advertisers. (Though they definitely have their moments.)
The real tyrant the papers served was the tender sensibilities of their readers.
Heh. Identifying your customers as the problem that made you fail seems spineless. Which is his point…
3. Timidity doesn’t work on the web
The web doesnâ??t reward blandness. It doesnâ??t really like the obvious, the inoffensive and the established. Today, if you published a web page with the headlines I just listed on itâ??you know, starting with â??Wooden Memoriesâ? and going right on down to â??Great Gifts for Teachersâ?â??you wouldnâ??t get many readers. In this way, the web mercilessly exposes the flaccidness of the content of most papers. It creates a straightjacket for them: As they desperately bland themselves out on land, the material they have on hand to impress in cyberspace is correspondingly pallid.
Here’s where his insider’s view gets a bit personal:
4. The staffs of the papers, from management down to the reporters, deserve a big share of the blame
The truth is, newsroom staffs are permeated with fear of change and a discomfort with new technology. At bigger urban papers, parsimonious bosses, unions and work rules made the transition even more difficult. Papers had to open Internet operations offsite (in one notable case, in another state) to get around union rules. The tender buttons of the news staffs were so sensitive that today many large papers still have not entirely integrated their newsrooms.
And here’s part of why news aggregators are kicking the newspapers’ collective rear-ends:
5. Newspaper websites suck
– First, the sites donâ??t even try to present information to visitors effectively. Imagine a typical story page on a newspaper website. In your mind, slice it in half horizontally, and then in thirds vertically. Number the top three rectangles one to three, and the bottom three four to six. Sorry about all the math, but hereâ??s my point: Why is it that, in the vast majority of cases when reading stories online, when you request a story, the site gives it to you, essentially, in rectangle number five? Why, after customers have asked for a specific thing, in other words, does the paper give them five times as much stuff they donâ??t want?
Wyman’s advice? Read the whole thing.