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How to save the NY Times?

News outlets make news. But to make money, they wrap that news in advertising.

Anybody else see a disconnect?

As we all know, advertising revenues are down as advertisers shift their dollars to more attractive media channels. And not every newspaper, least of all the NY Times, will be saved by the influx in erotic advertising that is resulting from Craig’s List’s ban described in this article on Adotas.

So I have a suggestion. Newspapers should climb out onto the leading edge of the micro-payments industry in this country and charge us for the news we so desperately need the same way they used to pay their reporters:  by the word.

I wonder what would happen if the NY Times wrote an open letter to all its readers in all formats (print, online, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) explaining that the old advertising model no longer supports the costs of news gathering, and asking us to opt-in to a micro-payments structure that has users pay for content by the word or article.

After all, we pay for our music by the song or album at iTunes and Amazon. Users pay for their apps, too, at the iPhone store.

Maybe our news will cost us 100th of a penny per word — I don’t pretend to know — but there’s a number that would be worth paying to get accurate, valuable journalism, fed into our brains by whatever method we choose.

Faced with the alternative — disappearing like The Rocky Mountain News, turning into an online blog like The Tucson Citizen, or going Chapter 11 like the Chicago Tribune — would the stakeholders of the Times keep the “Old Gray Lady” afloat?

Advertisers could play along too. They could buy prepaid content credits that they would give to their target consumers  — as premiums, promotions, free-downloads, usage credits, rewards points, membership discounts or rewards. When a reader used credits, if they were sponsored, they would see their sponsor’s message.

From a reader’s perspective, it would look like this: Whenever I logged onto the Times website (or followed a Twitter link (A Twink?) etc.) I’d get a screen with that day’s advertisers’ offers. I’d pick a sponsor, they’d pay, I’d get my news, and they’d get my eyeballs. Maybe by the article, maybe by the day, maybe by bandwidth, whatever. (Hey, if Bank of America brought me my NY Times content for free, I’d gladly sit through their pre-rolls.)

These prepaid blocks would represent reliable chunks of income that could be sold through a digital auction model or on an upfront basis, or a combination of both (digital auction for the any inventory left over after the up front sales). A major advertiser could work out a promotion with Amazon that every large format Kindle would come with a sponsored year-long subscription to the Times.

Forwards to a friend could represent extra eyeballs for the advertiser, or extra charges, depending on the media buy.

It is frequently said that people don’t value what they get for free. While that may not always be true, it is true that the Internet has changed people’s cost/value perceptions as it pertains to news.

I am a news junkie. I stopped reading printed newspapers long ago, mostly because they’re outdated the minute they’re printed. And I’m ingesting more of my news online or on my phone rather than be continuously disappointed by cable and network news (which I am watching less frequently). Online, I can get better news faster. And much of that news comes from the NY Times. But I usually only notice the publisher after I’ve read the article, if at all. I frequently don’t even notice whose article it is I’m reading on Google News. Or Digg. Or a tweet.

So, in my desperate search for news, would I be willing to pay for that NY Times article? I would if, like E-ZPass, it was effortless to do. Would I sometimes choose an article from the competition if it were cheaper? Depends on the organization. (After all, I have always had the option to buy a Post or Daily News rather than a Times, and yet rarely did so.) More importantly, would I sit through ads for the sponsored version if it were free? I would.

Format-wise, news gathering and dissemination is wonderfully adaptable to large-format Kindles, Twitter, Facebook, SMS, and more.

But what will happen to the dead trees, and all the personnel associated with their destruction, rebirth, and delivery as newsprint?

Since we’re attempting to reinsert value into the equation, let’s look at it in those terms. Would people find enough value in the printed version to pay more for it? Might the printed version of the Times became such a status symbol that some people would happily pay more to make a conspicuously consumptive statement?

Where is the tipping point? Could the Times sustain a print edition at $10 per copy? Remember, under this model they’re already paying for news-gathering and editing with micro-payments. The printed version just needs to carry its own weight. And if it can’t, then I’m sorry for all those workers along the non-value chain, but it’s time for retraining.

So what do you think? Am I crazy, or could this work? And if so, can someone please explain to me why the NY Times isn’t already doing it?

PR and News

Another way to buy news coverage

A while back, I posted about companies buying their way into the news.

Well, it turns out there’s a way regular folks like you and me can buy our way into the news too.


See, unless you’re famous, it turns out that you have to pay to have an obituary printed in the newspaper. (Technically, you pay for death notices; obituaries are news items written by the newspaper about newsworthy individuals. Practically, though, they appear in the same area of the newspaper and are less distinguishable from each other than are paid and free search results. (Wikipedia has a good history of obituaries here.)

In fact, according to NY Times Obituary Editor Bill McDonald (quoted in 2006 and cited in the wiki above), death notices are actually handled by the classified department, and compete for space with the news department’s obituaries. The news department gets half a page, more or less, depending on sales of death notices that day.

I’m sure many of you know this already. In fact, 3 out of 5 friends I’ve asked about it answered me sadly and said, “Of course,” barely able to conceal their surprise at my naivete. Then again, many of you may not know this. As I’ve said before, I am still amazed by how many people don’t know that the “sponsored links” search results on Google are paid for by advertisers!

But if  you’ve never been through the process, like my family went through these past few weeks, it may come as a shock to you.

And it’s not cheap. Prices range from tens of dollars per column inch to hundreds. And there aren’t even any guarantees the paper will have enough space to print the obit on the day you want it there. You have to pay for the online versions, too.

Of course, there are some places where you can get coverage for free. The smaller papers still do it. I guess that their desire to serve their community and their desperate need for relevant content outweigh the business opportunity.

But I wonder, in this day of declining circulation and profitability at traditional news organizations, if that same thinking shouldn’t prevail? Maybe, if these papers did a better job of doing the things they can do better than new media, they would stay relevant.

Now, I am not going to join the online battles about what newspapers do best (exemplified by Jeff Jarvis’s post last year) except in this one area: people still read their local newspapers to find out who died — even if their local paper is the NY Times.

The local broadcast or cable news won’t mention your mother-in-law’s death. CNN certainly won’t, unless she was a Kennedy, over 100, a rock star, or somone equally important like a celebutante (contrary to popular belief, an old description first used in 1939 by Walter Winchell in his On Broadway column).

Your RSS feed isn’t set up to bring you news of the deaths of people you didn’t know died. (Well, most people’s feeds aren’t, anyway!) It won’t show up on The Huffington Post, Digg, YouTube, AOL, MSN or MySpace. (Maybe Twitter will start an obituary service. Hey, you never know.)

So newspapers, listen up: you’ve lost the jobs section (even the NY Times Jobs section is a partnership with Monster). You’ve lost the real estate section. Fight for this one piece of journalistic real estate you can hold on to by providing a free service to those bereaving family members who are getting milked by every other aspect of the death industry. Maybe even give more than half a page to it. At the very least, you’ll increase your circ by everyone who had a relative who died in the last few days.

That said, can someone please explain to me where the names are inscribed of the multitudes who have shuffled off their mortal coil and disappeared from this earth with no public notice of their passing because their relatives were too poor to pay for the death notice or who had no relatives at all? (Because, contrary to what I naively thought, it sure ain’t the archives of the-former-paper-of-record, the NY Times.)

Directed Advertising Integrated Marketing

Why are consumers like Western Lowland Gorillas?

CNN had a story today about the discovery of a colony of 125,000 Western Lowland Gorillas, well over twice the previously estimated worldwide population of 50,000. Naturalists had searched in vain for the vanishing primate, growing increasingly pessimistic, until researchers from the WIldlife Conservation Society stumbled upon a huge population in a swamp forest in the Republic of Congo.

I couldn’t help but compare this to marketers who have been lamenting recently that its harder to find consumers than ever before. First, there was the mystery of the missing 18-34 males, who traded in their TV for video games and the internet.

Now it’s white, educated, affluent women aged 25-44. They’re going online to watch episodes of broadcast TV, according to a recent study by IMMI reported on

Newspapers are losing readers, while blogs like the are getting more readers than The NY Times. (The Huffington Post claims 5.7 million readers, while the Times claims a total circ of 1,476,400 for their Sunday edition, their biggest day, including their electronic edition.)

But it’s not that consumers are going extinct. Or even that they’re getting harder to find. It’s just that they’re not in the places marketers are used to looking for them. Kind of like the gorillas.

In the same way I’m heartened by the article about the gorillas, I’m thrilled by the recent Communications Industry Forecast written about in USA Today. For the first time ever, by 2012 direct marketing spending via Internet Service Providers, video games and cable and TV providers is predicted to surpass traditional media. And direct marketing is much broader than it used to be, encompassing everything from behaviorally targeted interactive advertising to opt-in SMS campaigns to paid search to emails to digitally customized, personalized mailers to PURLs.

More and more marketers are waking up to the fact that “mainstream advertising” is failing to find the gorillas in the mist, and direct marketing is a more successful strategy for reaching them… even if it means slogging through a data-drenched swamp to get there.

So can someone please explain to me why so many marketers are still looking for consumers where they used to be, instead of finding them where they are?