Saving our newspapers, one electron at a time

Background: Scot Lehigh, an editorial writer for the Boston Globe, asked readers whether an on-line version of the Boston Globe could generate enough revenue to  save the paper. Here is what I wrote to him.

Hi Scott.  Here are some thoughts, random and otherwise.

  1. Yes!  I do think that people would be willing to pay for an online newspaper.  I think it could work at a cost of $2 to $3 per week, but this is pure guesswork on my part.
  2. The current version of the Boston Globe on line should be kept free.   It needs to be kept free in order to maintain a large list of readers, which strengthens the brand name of the Boston Globe and provides you much more influence locally and nationally.
  3. There should be an enhanced version of the Globe that is available on line for electronic subscribers, and free for those who subscribe to the paper.
  4. Major newspapers should form a consortium to work out details on enhanced versions.  This is a national problem, and there is no reason that the Boston Globe should be the first to try make it work or should duplicate the efforts of other national newspapers.  It should be a joint effort, possibly supported by schools of journalism as well.
  • The enhanced version should  include much more local video.
  • The video should be available to all on-line readers, but subscribers could have access to an enhanced resolution video.
  • One way of increasing video for very little cost is to encourage readers to submit interesting video.
  • You could even have awards for the best submitted videos of the day or week or month or year.
  • Include many more high quality photos.  Again, the enhanced version could provide access to higher resolution photos.
  • Have an enhanced search engine (perhaps Google or some other company can figure out what would be an improved search engine for newspapers.  The current version is OK but leaves LOTS of room for improvement.)
  • Include the comics and puzzles, but possibly at an additional weekly charge of $1 per week.
  • Include an enhanced navigation tool for moving from section to section within the newspaper.
  • Add some computer intelligence so that articles can be suggested to regular readers based on their reading patterns.
  • Create an improved look and feel.  This is extremely hard to get right, but very important.  Check out the Huffington Post for a look-and-feel very well suited for on-line readers.  Unfortunately, it is also a space inefficient way of presenting information to readers.
  • Permit access to enhanced versions of other major newspapers, possibly at an extra charge.  (The move to an enhanced version for the Boston Globe would be much more acceptable and much more widely visible if other major papers coordinated on this move, and if subscribers to one newspaper in the consortium received heavy discounts for other papers in the consortium.)
  • Include important local news stories from other major newspapers that are part of the “consortium”.
  • Charge larger subscription fees for libraries, except for libraries associated with public schools, which should have free access.

Here are two more points.

  1. Newspapers have not yet figured out the right advertising model for their on-line version.  But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a very good model.   One approach is to encourage readers to seek out ads rather than present them to readers whether they want them or not.  Most Boston readers want ads so that they can find bargains.  The on-line version could make it really easy for readers to find discounts and bargains that they are interested in.  The ads should be available in the free and enhanced versions of the on-line newspaper.
  2. If the enhanced on-line model is popular and a revenue-generator, you should reconsider issues for the paper, such as advertising, and delivery costs and options.  You should think these through now, but take little action until much later.
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One Response to “Saving our newspapers, one electron at a time”

  1. nanotürkiye Says:

    Thanks for your thoughts. I will quote your solutions, in my research paper.

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