Digital can’t duplicate the “Newspaper Experience”

Too many newspapers are giving up on themselves, and as such, are ignoring what is by far their biggest moneymaker: the printed medium.

Revenue is down. Classifieds are nearly gone. Circulation is declining every year. Staffs are shrinking seemingly daily. A small two-inch piece on page 2 of this morning business section reported that Quebecor is planning to lay off 400 employees.

Defeatism is rampant among reporters working in the industry. Publishers are desperate to find digital sales gurus to save their operations.

In the meantime, the presses continue to roll, against the daily crush of negativism. Not surprising, then, that the products coming off them are showing all the imagination and panache of, well, yesterday’s news.

They’ve stopped innovating at the print level. Innovation has been devoted to the digital product, even as the online platform brings in just 10 to 15 per cent of total revenue. The rest comes from print.

And what’s worse, it will, if anything, contribute more  to the self-prophesied demise of paper content than any nerd’s predictions will.

Google Kevin Slimp. This is a guy who is pretty much singlehandedly trying to stop the sheep from rushing to the slaughter house, frantically waving at the herd and yelling “Go this way! There’s another field to graze!”

Kevin is a newspaper consultant who is declaring without embarrassment that the newspaper model is not going the way of the dodo bird. And won’t unless the industry hastens its own demise, as it appears to be doing. He recently won a standing ovation at a recent newspaper conference when he told the crowd: “Newspapers have been telling their readers and advertisers for a while now that newspapers are dieing. Well, the readers and advertisers are starting to believe them.”

Far from hunkering down, newspapers need to hype the “Newspaper Experience.” I can see an ad featuring a guy or gal in their 40s or 50s — you know, the ones with the money — holding a tablet computer and scrinching their eyes. Panel two shows them with a coffee in a Lazyboy. Above each photo, are these captions:

“Eye Strain vs. Eye Gain.”

Hyping the dizzying and noisey world of online medium is what newspapers need to do, and attack with the kind of vigour that led the Globe and Mail to a brave new design a few years ago. Whether you liked the redesign or not, the Globe was refusing to give up on print, and sought to market that “Eye Gain” that so many believe is futile.

Even newspaper associations have dropped their conference emphasis on the improvement of the print product. I get daily invitations to participate in another one-hour webinar on social media or website coding. And though I just gave one myself on the benefits of Facebook for small town reporters, I made it clear to my participants that all and any activity should have one purpose: to build and enhance the quality of their newspaper.

But that’s just me. There are many bigger brains than mine out there burning up neurons preaching the New Language. And they have many converts.

Maybe they’re right, but I bet they aren’t. People aren’t machines, and most of them are showing persistence at sticking with what they like, against a digital wasteland. That’s why movie theatres, bowling alleys and pool rooms are still around. Warren Buffet, one of the richest men in the world, knows that. Newspaper CEOs, publishers and investors should too.

 

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