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Thursday, December 01, 2005

Lessons for Newspapers...and B2B 

A Recipe for Newspaper Survival in the Internet Age

Slashdot's Robin Miller posts a very interesting meditation on how newspapers can succeed in the present and future. It's a long piece, but worth your time to read, since its lessons are appropriate for b2b publishers. (I have a few key grabs from the piece at the bottom of this post).

I don't think print is dead, but its primacy as a text- and still-image delivery vehicle certainly is. And I think all the talk about whether print is dead is pointless--the distribution and format of communications will certainly change (as it is doing now), and will continue to change forever. We no longer paint on cave walls, or etch into stone tablets, or use monks to hand-copy texts. So what if newspapers as physical objects eventually pass away?

The idea of newspapers (as a compendium of news, analysis, opinion, comics pages and stock and sports box scores) will continue.

I think the same goes for magazines, regardless of whether they're printed or not.

The worst thing we can do is spend time trying to defend ink-on-paper. It's a worthless battle, and it's the wrong battle. There will be ink-on-paper for a long time, consumed by (and created by) old fogies like me. But we're reaching a generational cliff. We're reaching a time, within the next decade, when the next group of b2b decisionmakers makes the jump from the cubicle to the office without all the old tech baggage that my generation has.

This new generation isn't invested in print (or broadcast TV, or movies, or CDs, or any of the "old media" I'm so happy with) as a way to consume information. That doesn't mean that they'll be stupid, or non-readers. They'll just be reading things in different ways.

Our challenge will be to reach them how they want to be reached, and interact with them in the way they want. They'll be making buying decisions, with or without us in the loop.

Some key grabs from Miller's piece:

Circulation figures can also be misleading because they only measure the total number of newspapers distributed, not the kind of people who read them. And readership quality can often be more important, in a business sense, than quantity. This is especially true for those newspapers (namely, just about all of them) that rely on advertising for the bulk of their income.

Instead of treating their Web sites like unwelcome stepchildren, newspapers should turn them into their primary method of news delivery -- and teach their reporters, editors, and ad sales people how to work effectively with this new -- to them -- medium.

He's also got some good things to say about community journalism:

1. No matter how much I or any other reporter or editor may know about a subject, some of the readers know more. What's more, if you give those readers an easy way to contribute their knowledge to a story, they will.
2. Not all readers know what they're talking about.
3. No matter what you do, some readers will post malicious and/or obscene comments

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