Saturday, March 14, 2009

Unthinkable thoughts - without Newspapers, you won't know

The original concept of this blog was to speak to people my age or older who are intrigued by digital technology but looking for someone to translate it into terms they can relate to. We'll be getting posts to that goal up on the blog in the not to distant future.

In the meantime, I read a blog post today written by someone I don't know. But should. His name is Clay Shirky & I was tipped to it by a Twitter tweet. Clay put into perspective something I have been trying to understand & articulate for a while now. What is the future of newspapers?

Tim O'Reilly explains why Clay was successful communicating this thought as well as gives some background on who Clay is.

I work for a division of a newspaper company. Three years ago I let my newspaper subscription lapse to see what life would be like without my morning paper. After about six months, I resubscribed for the following reasons:

  1. I missed the local local news & sports

  2. I missed the advertising

  3. I missed the perspective of a couple of columnists

  4. I couldn't engage in conversations at the office when a friend would mention "something I saw in the paper"

  5. The online newspaper form factor (of my local paper) sucked

  6. The newspaper made me a resubscribe offer I couldn't refuse ($7 per month)

As I read Clay's blog post, I agreed with his points about how we are living through a tunnel of revolution where existing media business models will break and we don't have a clear understanding of what that light is were racing towards at the end of the tunnel , how far away it is or how fast it's coming at us. But I also thought about the reasons I resubscribed to my paper (and have continued to subscribe ever since).

If I work at it, I can find solutions to reason #1 and #3 by going online. #5 is pretty much overcome by my personalized online newspaper - Google Reader (more on that in a future blog post).

The key components for me are #2 and #4. My friends & co-workers read the paper and I either need to do the same, not join the conversation, or find new friends. But of all the reasons I signed up for again, it was for the advertising.

I remember an ad campaign many years ago designed to promote radio advertising. The message was "Without Advertising, you won't know".

Without a newspaper, I don't know. Here's an example from just today.... I've been wanting to get rid of cans of old paint and chemicals that have cluttered my garage for a couple of years. There was a County-sponsored hazardous recyclables drop-off today not far from my house. Without their ad (in the local local section of the paper yesterday), I wouldn't have known. I'm sure we all have had numerous situations where an ad caught our attention and helped us make a smart buying decision.

In addition I look forward to my Sunday FSIs (Free Standing Inserts) from Best Buy, CompUSA, Staples, Office Depot & the others not to mention the coupons. Its the advertising - from a consumer's perspective - that is not addressed in Clay's terrific blog post and it's that aspect of all this that needs to be addressed. Google "Sponsored Links' on search results & website banner ads seem to me to be much more difficult to execute for an advertiser than simply placing their ad in your local newspaper -- if there's anyone out there to read it. At the same time, as a consumer I'm not sure I would have known about the paint drop-off without my paper and that ad.

All that said, you have to agree with Clay's point about journalism not being dead, it's just journalism "on paper" that's getting its last rites. But what about the ads? I want to "know".

Do you subscribe/read your daily newspaper? Why?


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