Monday, February 16, 2009

Free site versus locked down - TOTALLY WRONG QUESTION!

Welcome to the world of snake oil sales and online gimmicks. Everyone seems to have a solution, or at least an opinion as to how the newspaper industry will ultimately monetize the web; the problem with all the current solutions on the table is that none of them has really panned out. Yes, some ideas are certainly doing better and have stronger merit than others; however none offer the reward large enough to change the rules of the game. Along with this, we are seeing great new technology coming online that offers at least a glimmer of dim hope, but once again, no real hard evidence or better put, dollars attached, that make any meaningful difference.

I am sure some idea or technology will come along at some point in the future that can offer more than a glimmer of financial hope; but until then, if things don't change rapidly with our current business model, we'll continue to see the erosion of what was once a great industry. That said, what can we do now to at least slow the erosion that has overtaken the industry?

First, let's stop arguing over if offering our content for free online or if locking down the website is the correct course of action; that is the TOTALLY wrong argument or question to begin with. No one argues that giving away for free what costs us a arm and leg to create is shear business stupidity and destined to fail. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to understand that. Now, before all those proponents of giving everything away for free rise up in arms, let me add to this statement. I am NOT saying that we lock down our websites and charge for the content, that strategy is as gravely flawed and will also leave the emperor exposed.

A side point that needs to be pointed out however. We can theorize all we want about impact of locking, not locking and so forth, however it should be noted how Walter Hussman of the Arkansas Gazette has chosen to address this issue. His process of not giving away for free what he produces at a great cost is hard to argue with from a circulation perspective as his results show a 10 year fairly stable circulation number. Yes, he has experienced some ups and downs, but most newspapers would give an arm or leg for the stabilization of the circulation numbers he has managed to maintain in his core market.

That said, I still believe that we are having the entirely wrong argument and Walters model will substantiate that. Despite the great circulation record, I suspect that Walter is in the same boat as the rest of us and whether his site is locked down or not really may not matter as his ad revenue and thus entire business model is still bleeding profusely. That said, we must look beyond the circulation impact, because despite the circulation you may be able to maintain; the real financial pressure comes from the perception of the advertisers coupled with the current economic meltdown which is accelerating the financial perfect storm. So what do we do?

First, I would begin by changing our current print /online relationship model and moving away from the mirror philosophy we currently embrace. I would start by eliminating a few items from the online site that appear in print. Examples might include, but aren't limited to cutting out the police blotters and crime scene, change the stories to offer different length and versions of the stories online versus in print and vice-versa. In a nutshell, give people a reason to visit both the print and online products. How you go about doing that may vary by market, but you must give them viable reasons to visit both products, having a mirrored product really offers no incentive to do that. But one thing Walter's model does give us is strong evidence or credence that having information only available in print and not online can help stem circulation declines.

Secondly, we must understand that alone won't be nearly enough. I would start finding new things to post online that would be interesting to our online visitors. I would find cool links to various topics that may be of interest in your market. Create a Youtube clip of the day, become a local aggregating site of non-print information. Create a blog roll exclusively for local bloggers, have your reporters and editors visit the chat forums and participate a few minutes each day. I heard one idea where you even promote the reporters and newsroom folks as experts in certain areas. Anything that provides audience interaction will be a great addition to developing the community you need to harvest. Many aggregating sites do quite well financially, why not take that model and be the local aggregating site everyone turns to?

Thirdly, expounding on the previous job of creating a robust community within your community that isn't necessarily tied to your newspaper. While content is king, the type of content is critical. We need to embrace citizen contributions to our site, whether that be as citizen journalists or just community sounding boards, the fact is that people love to see people in their community online. One need look no further than out of South Korea, started as a citizen journalist website that morphed into a spin-off print product. Oh and by the way, that spin-off web print became the 4th largest print product in South Korea after only a few years. I believe that online offers unlimited opportunities to create a community no one else in your community has the ability or bandwidth to do; we need to capitalize on this opportunity before it might be to late.

All that said, I don't pretend to have all the answers to this serious issue, I only am willing to throw out ideas and give things a trial to see what might resonate with our community. I get a kick out of those still clinging to the hope that more research and focus groups coupled with a task force will solve the problem; hope they unfortunately learn to late makes a very poor business strategy. The real keys are the ability to move quickly, the ability to adapt to market changes on a dime as well as the ability to change and follow one's intuition are paramount to succeeding in today's economic climate. We can all hope for the day focus groups and task forces are back in style, but until then it is a whole new world in which we are forced to operate, so let's get on with the task at hand.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Who Says Newspapers Can't Offer Pay-For-Perfomance Advertising?

One of the real disadvantages newspapers and other print products have when pitted against the online is the ability of online industry to show results as measured by click-through, page views, downloads and actual sales online. How can newspapers overcome this small disadvantage and take the offensive? I say small disadvantage because while online competitors can monitor all the above and much more, due to several reasons, the results for online advertising are still pretty dismal at best. It's great to be able to track the click-throughs, page views and all the other bells and whistles offered by online. However all that is really worth tracking are the dollar signs registered on the cash register window. Those dollar signs are proving to be a bit illusive, even for the online folks.

Now I realize many will argue the disadvantage is much more than small, in fact many will argue that it is quite huge. Small or large, not sure it really matters as the bigger problem in my mind is newspapers inability to measure and guarantee results; instead relying and trusting on the age old arguments of reach, market saturation and so forth. This past month, I have been lucky enough to be in a room twice listening to employees from Morris communications discuss their paid-lead program. While I am not convinced their current program or model will be the saving grace so to speak, I have been manipulating various versions or spin-offs of the paid-lead program in my mind. I believe their paid-lead program with some modifications could actually morph into a potential game changer.

Here's an innovative idea that may change the rules of the game back in the favor of the newspaper industry. It utilizes one of the remaining strengths many newspapers still have over their competition, that is they still dominate the eyeballs in most markets. I do believe that competitive edge will continue to erode if we don't provide a reason for the eyeballs to remain loyal - and news alone isn't enough to do that, there has to be financial reasons as well.

First, as most would agree, we need to target many non-traditional potential advertisers from the service industry; these could include but may not be limited to accounting, legal, plumbing, heating and air, auto repair, auto towing and appraisal services to name but a few. I believe the small business and non-traditionals may well be the key to our future.

Visit each of the potential advertisers asking them to tell us about their three best or most successful offers they have ever utilized to drive business. Once they have explained those to us, we then offer to run a FREE ad campaign featuring those offers throughout the next quarter. We explain that while we will be running the offer and teasers, we will not be advertising who is providing the offer. Now for the best part, the entire campaign is FREE with only one condition, they will pay us an agreed amount for each lead that we generate for them via this campaign. This could be anywhere from $19.95 to $49.95 per lead depending upon the services being provided.

After we have secured approximately 25+ different businesses in this fashion, we build a campaign targeting our readers. This campaign shows our readers how they can save money, deal with only honest and reputable local businesses without the hassle of calling people you don't know. Not only that, but we have screened them to assure they are what they say. The readers then call our number where we provide the name and number of the business they are seeking. We let the readers know they can contact them or we'll have the business contact them, the readers choice. After hooking up the readers and the business, we also follow-up with the customer to assure it was a good experience and then forward that informal survey from the customer to the business as a tool to help them better their service as well.

Lastly, in order to encourage readers to utilize this money-saving feature, the newspaper can offer their readers an incentive to utilize this service. Say a free month of the newspaper, a free one-year subscription to a list of 20-30 magazines such Sporting News, Forbes or what have you. (The cost to the newspaper for these magazines is only a couple bucks) Your imagination can run wild as you can offer any incentive that fits your program.

This idea isn't perfect as a matter fact this idea is still developing in my mind. I continually come up with new twists each day I feel might add to the potential power of this type of approach. But at the end of the day, we can not only track the success of promotion, we can deliver direct results to the businesses we have partnered with. And that is the only real measuring stick we need. The ad dollars will go where they get results. As with the other ideas I throw out, none will in itself save us from what the future may bring. But innovative thinking is the only path to a bright future - the business model we currently utilize will not survive; but that doesn't mean we can't.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Is 'Barter' The Key to Getting the Little Guy Back?

It is no secret many of newspapers largest advertisers are cutting back, going out business or in need of federal handouts in order to make payroll. One might argue waiting for these advertisers to come back is a hopeless venture and failed strategy. With comedy central operating at full tilt in Washington and no real leadership on the horizon, there is nothing in the economic outlook pointing towards much, if any rebound in 2009 or even 2010. The question then becomes, are you prepared to weather this storm that is measured not in months, but years?

That being the case, it is imperative we turn some major attention to those advertisers our industry has a history of ignoring; that would be the little guys. Yes, those pesky little businesses that in years gone by, we priced out of our pages, may in fact be one of the keys to our future survival. The real kicker is now the newspaper industry must go looking for them, and many of those shunned smaller little guys that have been uninvited to the dance in years past, may decide that playing hard to get can be fun. In fact, with economic conditions as they are, there may not be a price per inch, however low that will attract their interest. That being the case, how do we turn these lemons into lemonade before they are lost forever?

Here is a simple thought, one that I have seen used, one that works but has yet to be perfected to the level I believe is possible. In tough economic times and good times alike, many smaller businesses just don't have the available cash to advertise with any consistency, if at all. That being the case, how do we reach them and offer services that promote and grow their business while helping us meet our bottom-line goals and objectives. One word comes to mind, 'Barter'.

I began experimenting with barter a couple years ago with N2 initiative within our circulation department. The premise was that we wanted a circulation retention operation that was easy to build, promote and maintain. We wanted something unique and different than the normal 'reader reward' card and trinkets that circulation departments have a history of offering their long-term subscribers. We opted for a subscriber only Loyalty Website' which we called, but has since been re-purposed as

We started by going to our advertising department to obtain a list of non-advertisers as our starting point for a list of those we would approach and solicit to advertise on our retention site. Initially, this online retention site would allow the advertisers to offer changeable coupons year round to our readers, would offer various auctions, e-newsletters and/or e-blasts promoting their goods and offers, it had a value vault where readers could come and get discounted gift certificates and mush more.

Best of all, we priced a full year on the site at only $75 per month or $900 for the year. Figured it would be an easy sell. Long story short, after 30 days of hard work, we only had 3 takers and the entire concept was in jeopardy of failure. Before abandoning ship, I decided that we needed to try a completely new approach; we doubled the price to $1800 per year offering it as barter.

Once again, long story short, businesses jumped on almost as fast as we could sign them up, barter was certainly something businesses could not only relate to, but they could afford. Now the big issue became, how do we monetize the barter turning it into hard cash that pays bills? The first year offered our share of trial and error, we had far more barter than could be monetize through the site. But we viewed this a small price to pay for experimentation.

Over time we have been perfecting our retention model at in such a way as to monetize the barter far more effectively. It now has a backwards auction platform, we are testing a very robust classified platform as you are reading this post, (the classified platform will tie into other like sites as well offering a viable option to Craigslist, see my next post on a worthy Craigslist opponent). We'll be offering our readers a state-of-the-art auction platform, this auction platform will be used to barter for print advertising (could be used to barter for online or digital advertising as well). We now offer video for our advertisers as well as many other innovations still on the drawing board. We will be relaunching this reader site inside of 30 days as a big part of our innovation initiative here in Ottawa. It is simply a readership site on steroids.

If you read one of my previous posts on the dying subscription model, you will see how this comes into play. We are attempting to mold a program for our readers that couples the power of print with the new pull of online into a new program that offers readers unlimited ways to save money, pinch their pennies and live fuller lives; while offering our advertisers the opportunity to help them do that thus furthering their business.

Is barter a perfect model? For some it will be! Is our version of barter the final and best idea? I think not. Will it allow us to gain business from those we have missed out on in the past? Without a doubt, yes! Will the barter model change over time? Absolutely, probably monthly as that is the key to new innovations, you must be ready to turn on a dime and move in different directions as the opportunities present themselves. This particular site isn't built to replace a newspaper website, it couldn't do that even if we wanted it to, it is built to fill a niche or void for our readers and users offering another place to spend their time and money while keeping them in our media fold so to speak. It is built to be inexpensive, easy to maintain and quick to implement without the need for IT or other departments who are already stressed to the max, that makes it a win-win for us.

I welcome any critiques of, as this is time to tweak and adjust as we prepare for a major in our market.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Newspaper Industry Online Revenue Model?

I believe many are seeking the perfect online model for the newspaper industry. The big question being, how do we create and fund the content when it is currently free for the taking? I was recently reading a column by Jeff Bercovici of, and he had some interesting thoughts on how a new online model and how it might be viewed or used. While it still didn't address the money angle, I'll do that at the end, it did spark some ideas on how newspapers may be able to turn visitors into dollars.

Here are is a portion of the column.

As you browse, you have a small status bar at the bottom of your screen, akin to the "life bar" in first-person shooter games that shows you how healthy or injured your character is. In this case, the status bar shows you how many free page views you have left.

If you want to exceed your quota but you don't want to pay, there are other ways. In video games, you can usually replenish your life bar by collecting floating gold coins or stars or mushrooms or what have you; why not do the same on a newspaper site? Scatter them about randomly so that readers are rewarded for exploring different sections of the site, reading to the end of stories, etc. And extra free page views could be only one of the rewards. Readers who compile enough coins/stars/mushrooms could win all sorts of goodies: Free admission to FT conferences, lunch with an FT writer, and so on. (Or maybe this isn't such a good idea, given the evidence that performance-based rewards undermine intrinsic motivation.) Meanwhile, those wet blankets who don't want to play always have the option of handing over their credit card numbers.

End quote.

Now, while this has it's upsides and downsides and is certainly fraught with challenges, it is an interesting thought process. What if in order to obtain additional time on the site, in lieu of cash we offered then the opportunity to circumvent the cash option by obtaining additional information such as addresses, e-mail addresses, permission to send e-offers, marketing information and so forth which can be monetized in other ways? What if readers were given credits for each story they read allowing them to read more? Those are pretty traditional ideas and thinking, but let's take it to the next level.

In order to get to the crux of the problem we must realize that our ultimate online goal is to gain results for our advertisers; thus how do we do that? What if we offered incentives to our readers for clicking on and purchasing items from our advertisers on the sites, I.E., someone takes advantage of a downloadable coupon shown on our site and that counts as credit towards further site usage. Better yet, why not figure out a way in which we reward our readers for producing results for our advertisers. In other words, we let them know that our site is paid for by the local advertisers and when you purchase gift certificates from any of our advertisers advertising on the site via the site, that is the same as paying to use the site and you receive site credit for that purchase.

The key to this however would be to have advertisers offering gift certificates for items such as food, gas and so forth that everyone needs anyway. This will seem less demanding and most will assume it is a small price to pay and they have to pay it anyway. On the flip side, forcing site visitors to buy a car in order to utilize the site won't work real well, however if someone does buy a car, they should certainly be rewarded with a lifetime site pass for doing so.

Certainly not perfect and I'm sure many have had thoughts similar to these. The bottom-line is simple, we need to figure out ways to better monetize the online venue. The current push to sale banners, video and so forth is certainly important, but it is really only a means to an end. Fact is that even if we controlled 50% of all the online ad spending in our markets, we're still up a creek without a new angle to this problem of survival.

The world is certainly moving rapidly towards the digital age, print while a player in the game is becoming less so and this trend will no doubt continue. I do believe that print has a life cycle left, only that life cycle is far different than what we currently tend to hold on to.

Now Here's A Game Changer For The Industry?

What happens when the rules of the game no longer allow you to win the game? Do you keep playing the game or do you change the rules to level the playing field? Using that as backdrop, let's take a look at one major newspaper industry category who's revenue is not only at risk with cutbacks in advertising; but may be at risk and lost forever to the slumping economy and online competition - that would be the real estate category.

How to change the rules! First, let me preface these comments with a short disclaimer stating this course of action isn't for the faint-hearted, however it is certain without exception to change the rules in your market. In addition, it won't win you many lunch dates with local brokers and agents. Secondly, I personally wouldn't embark down this road until you felt your local real estate revenue had dipped to far and wasn't likely coming back. With that caveat, here we go.

Once you've practically lost the real estate category; why not just jump into the real estate game or business as a company? I submit that it would actually be quite easy. Simply venture into your local market and find a good broker that doesn't have the highest marketshare, meet with him and lay out your new business proposal. Simply let him/her know your newspaper company has decided to open a real estate brokerage and is seeking a broker/manager of the new operation. Explain that this new brokerage will spare no advertising expense and will reward the brokers and agents with outstanding commission splits, the best around. Lastly explain to the broker, he/she will be provided with a base salary along with a piece of the action. What appetite wouldn't be wet at this point, but let me go on.

To convince the potential broker that this is in his/her best interest, you simply convey that you will be making a print/online commitment far greater than any real estate company has seen before. You buy ink by the barrels and sellers will have their homes in print 2-3 times each week; you have the most visited website in the area that will displayed listings online as long as the home is on the market. You will provide a non-stop stream of bill stuffers targeting potential buyers and direct mail will be available. In a nutshell, their promotional package will be second to none. Office space will be provided to the broker and agents at no cost along with the services that go along with an office. (Most of us have plenty of extra desks at this point, won't cost us dime.)

Furthermore, you might explain that home sellers in your market will flock to the new brokerage once they see how often the homes appear in print and are aggressively promoted. Agents will flock to the new brokerage that offers a nearly unlimited promotional budget while allowing them to list homes a slightly lower rate for the sellers.

If you play your cards right, you could become the largest brokerage in your market almost overnight, thus attracting even more business. It would force the other brokers to advertise more or slowly become irrelevant in the marketplace. On the other hand, why not invite all brokers to participate in this new venture thus capturing the entire market and getting a piece of the whole pie in lieu of just a portion. While the newspaper brokerage could certainly keep more than 1-2 percent (most brokers keep 3-3.5 percent), if they only kept 1-2 percent while giving the brokers/agents the other 4-5 percent; a newspaper could generate approximately $300,000 for every 100 closings handled each year. (That is based on a $150,000 sales price, most markets would be much more) Multiple this by the potential transactions in your area and you can see how fast this ads up.

As I said, this isn't for the faint-hearted, but it would drastically alter the rules of the game. What if newspapers around the country did this creating the largest national brokerage in the country and shared referrals as well? There is no end to where it may go and just think what it might do for readership as once again, a robust real estate offering is appearing in your pages and online.

Is this feasible in the real estate market, maybe and maybe not? But regardless, I will submit this type of thinking is what is needed for our industry to make a comeback. We must stop thinking outside the box and blow-up the box. This type of thinking is a potential game changer. Like all ideas, I can't take full credit. I have thought through this similar business model or process with other business categories; as an example we have become a Penske truck rental dealership here in Ottawa allowing us to get discounted trucks for our transportation needs and then getting paid a commission for renting to ourselves as well as those we rent out to the community. While Budget and U-haul don't much care for us, they never advertised anyway. So while I have thought about this in other arena's, I must give Brent Low in Salt Lake credit as he has sparked my imagination as to the real estate opportunities, so thanks.

Maybe it would give many business categories cause to reflect on the consequences of leaving the print product. After all, who wants competitor that owns a press and barrels of ink in the marketplace?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Can We Create a Virtual Newsroom?

For far to long now, the newspaper industry has been content to follow the ground rules laid out by visionaries outside of our industry. We have let others dictate the rules of the game for us and we've been willing to settle for whatever rules have been thrust upon us. I would submit that when the rules no longer benefit you and in fact they become a shackle around your ankles; it is either time to get out of the game or it is time to change or make-up new rules. That is where newspapers are today, it is either time to start changing the rules of the game quickly or it is only time before our demise is complete.

My last post dealt with some of the changes we are contemplating in our circulation department. This post acts as a follow-up to a question I submitted on LinkedIn to fellow newspaper executives throughout the country. Bear in mind, this is a work in progress and will be an ever-changing target, a few of the thoughts here have been contributed by some of the many that responded to my questions previously.

Let me preface this with a few statements I believe to be true.

1) Without some major donors willing to throw money at it with no real return other than goodwill (which may happen in a few markets), the current newsroom model is unsustainable at best and is but a few years away from extinction.

2) Not only is the current newsroom model unsustainable, the current newsroom model is also one of the major drags on the entire business model and will spell the demise of the entire industry if nothing changes quickly.

I don't believe anyone under-estimates the importance of the newsroom, after all without content, there would be nothing in which to place ads around. That said, we have to question if the content we currently provide is not only the right content, but is it gathered in the most efficient manner. That said, what are the questions we need to ask? Here are a few:

Let's start with a real controversial issue, do we have to be fair and balanced? Maybe it is only me, but most National media has not been fair and balanced for about as long as I can remember. Sure, most try and present facts, but usually only the facts that further their world view at the time. CNN is who they are, FOX is who they are because they tell people listening to them what those people want to hear to substantiate their world view. Readers don't want to be told how wrong they are all the time, they want to be told things that reinforce their view of the world. If I am a newspaper in a red state, maybe it makes sense to write in such a way as to appeal to our readers, the same holds true of a newspaper in a blue state. The bottom-line, if you are blue state newspaper in a red state, you will lose readers and subscribers over time faster than the normal circulation declines may be; you can bank on that. Maybe that is also why local citizen journalists when found seem to do so well; they are the look and feel of the community they write about. Now on to less dramatic issues.

How should we measure and compensate our newsroom? For to long, we have avoided solid metrics or measurements. How is it that a writer can produce 200 inches a week on average in one market and only 40-50 inches in another? Granted, each market and beat offers varying opportunities, however we still have to fill space with quality content. Why shouldn't each writer have a set space to fill each day or week and then be expected to fill it? If all else fails, they can produce a little enterprise to make ends meet. Yes, measuring by the inch is fraught with pitfalls, but measuring by the inch can be a powerful tool if coupled with quality measurements as well. I realize I may get shot for this, but what if just like a real estate agent, writers/reporters leased seats in the newsroom and were then compensated for the quantity and quality of their work? Talk about an increase in production!

When will we start utilizing 'Citizen Journalists' to a great extent? The website in South Korea was built around the concept of citizen journalism. This online only product was so successful, they spun off a print product that became the 4th or 5th largest newspaper in the country in less than 4 years. When it comes to local content, there is nothing more powerful than fellow citizens providing local content. Sure there are issues of consistency, editing, legal and so forth, but the cost for citizen produced content is pennies on the dollar compared to what we produce and the readership is oftentimes much greater. Not to mention, you really have those same issues with employees, just a tad more control over it; but I suspect that control is what most Managing Editors like.

When will we actually only use 'Multi-Platform Journalists' and nothing else? The days of being only a writer need to end and they can't end to quickly. Our writers/reporters need to be writing, snapping the pictures, taking the video, blogging, twittering, and doing 90% of their own editing. Let's compensate them for interest; are people following them on their blogs and is the story getting clicks online? Was a picture or video submitted with the story or feature? Did they write a short and long version of the story, one for the web and one for print?

How should we compensate Managing Editors? Every position in our companies, including the newsroom should be heavily compensated with a performance based metrics. Salaries ought to be low and the at-risk portion of the compensation high with excellent levels of reward for those great ones. Compensate them on the number of quality contributing citizen journalist inches, compensate them on the online traffic to the newsrooms stories and newsroom generated blogs. Compensate them on the production of those in the newsroom with the bar being raised dramatically and the expectations being high. Have a staggered base where half or more is at risk if the above and other objectives aren't met. They are the team leaders, without their push, it will fail.

I could ask many additional newsroom questions, but the intent isn't to address or provide all the questions and answers, those questions and answers will certainly vary by property. One of the responses to the original question was by Bill Long when he said, "the nice part is that increased local content doesn't have to come from reporters working harder; just smarter and more efficiently. Most of this goes to planning and that starts with the managing editor."

Back to the title of this blog entry, can we create a virtual newsroom? It is my estimation that we can without any doubt in my mind create a virtual newsroom. With modern technology, stories can be filed by our writers, reporters and citizen journalists from anywhere in the world, the same goes for photo's and video, they can be edited by retired editors from home, pages can be laid out by stay-at-home moms on home computers, planning can be virtual as well. Managing Editors in a sense would become traffic cops coordinating the same things they do now, only in a different fashion and using different methods. Is this the answer to our current problem, maybe and maybe not. I suspect that somewhere in the middle is where we will find the common ground that allows us remain a viable newsroom and industry.

As we are working towards a total newsroom transformation here in Ottawa, I am very interested in comments and ideas, please comment or e-mail me directly with your thoughts.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Word 'Subscription' is Dead Terminology!

I have mentioned in my two previous posts this blog is all about ideas and innovation. I will start today looking at our industries broken circulation and/or subscription model; one that is coming to an end very quickly if we don't take action today - actually yesterday. Coming through the industry ranks on the marketing, circulation and business side, I've often felt the key to maintaining a strong print product in the future is tied to the bundling of our products with other products and/or services. To often I hear industry veterans tell us that all we need to do is promote what is in our various products better, or in other words, enlighten our readers as to how good we really are.

From a marketing perspective, nothing could be more outlandish; yet it does reek of the traditional mindset so prevalent in our industry. You know that mindset that we know what is good for the readers and they just need to rely on and trust us. Sorry folks, that mindset went away with 8-track tapes, record albums and pet rocks. From a business and marketing perspective, we can judge our products on one thing and one thing only, how many people will buy what we are peddling. Money talks, tradition walks.

Don't take that the wrong way, offering a compelling message or marketing campaign certainly can and will bring people in the front door or into our pages; however keeping them there is the real battle. That requires long term strategies and hooks that hold in many ways. The bottom-line is that anyone that takes a trial subscription for 13 weeks and then quits has spoken to us with his/her pocketbook, saying you don't have enough value for me.

Now here is a somewhat tame, yet potentially powerful thought. What if we no longer offered subscriptions? What if our newspaper became but a small piece of a much bigger package that readers couldn't say no to? What if that bigger package was priced even higher than a traditional subscription to a daily newspaper? I do believe that our print products aren't dead yet and even may have a bit of a run left in them, just not under the traditional format we have grown accustomed to in our industry.

Why not convert our subscriber base before it shrinks any further and create the largest Co-op or buying club in the area patterned after a Sam's Club or Costco etc? However, as the largest and most trusted media medium in the area, it could be taken to a completely new level, let me explain further.

As a new co-op club member I would receive the following based on my relationship with the Newsmedia company.

1) Newspaper delivered 1-6 days per week (member's choice) and unlimited online access.

2) Buying club membership. (Each month, as a group I am offered the opportunity to purchase food or gas at greatly reduced prices because we purchase in bulk to the winning bidder.)

3) Free auto buying services. (I simply submit the type of vehicle I am looking for, the co-op places that request to bid with all their suppliers (advertisers) and presents the buyer with the bids acting as the 3rd-party - of course the winning bidder has built-in the finders fee to the Newsmedia company and the buyer just goes in and picks up their new vehicle at the best price without dealing with the car sales hassles or routines.)

4) Free other buying services. (See #3 and expand to real estate listings, insurance, legal services and let the mind wonder - could be a great new revenue stream)

5) Free local e-mail offers. Members can sign-up for weekly, monthly or whatever e-mail blasts listing the special offer of the week at local restaurants or businesses and so forth. (Of course, we go to local businesses and pitch they now have access to the largest co-op buying group in the area. Think what that e-mail blast might be worth in your market)

6) Free classifieds (we're going there anyway)

7) Free magazine subscription of their choice. (Magazine companies offer highly discounted subscriptions when in bulk, give the members a choice of about 10-15 highly read magazines such as TV Guide etc. - only cost the co-op about $1 - $2 per year.) Side note: maybe it is worth it to just purchase a TV Guide for everyone in the market to avoid our weekly newsprint cost.

8) Free 11x17 color replica of any page in the newspaper throughout the year. (1 per household)

9) Other discounted services as acquired throughout the year, let you imagination run wild.

The trick to making this work isn't offering this as an option, you simply convert your entire subscriber base to co-op memberships with no options. Even if 10% of your subscriber base opted to stop the newspaper in lieu of being a member, you'll lose that many in a few years anyway. Additionally, I would consider offering tiered levels of membership benefits based on length of subscription or club membership to encourage longevity and consistency. There is no end to what could be offered to the members and monetized by the Newsmedia company.

Lastly and most importantly, I would charge an extra $2.00 to $5.00 per month for the privilege of being a member with a money back guarantee that if they haven't saved more than the price increase throughout the year, you refund their money. For every 10,000 in circulation, your Newsmedia company would see $240,000 - $600,000 in additional revenue, with very little incurred cost and multiple renewed revenue opportunities.

Does this idea have flaws? Absolutely! Is it doable? Without a doubt! I can think of a few questions and concerns, after all anything worth doing will require a few risks and chances; but I would submit this line of thinking is where we need to be going as an industry. Our industry doesn't have time for evolution, it is time for the revolution to begin. We need to change the rules of the road more to our advantage or change the road we are traveling on. Please feel free to pick this apart as we will most likely be going down this path at our newspaper in the near future and we certainly would appreciate any feedback from you.