Monday, July 27, 2009

The Times should develop paid niche channels, not broad premium content packages

Yet another stage of the New York Times’s exploration of paid content options has come to light via Gawker, which has posted the text of two potential content packages, labeled “Silver” and “Gold.” It’s clear these are hypothetical options; Gawker quotes a Times spokesperson as writing them that “It’s very early in the process. We are still in the data collection phase.”

As described in the survey, Silver would be priced at $50 a year and offer benefits called FirstLook (early access to some stories) and BackStory (extra background on some stories), as well as TimesWire (now free) and TimesMachine (an archive service now largely free). You also get some extras including bling (coffee mug, tote bag, baseball cap, or a copy of the New York Times Style Guide) and discounts on photo reproductions and other stuff from the Times store.

At the Gold level, you would pay $150 a year for all of the above plus TimesEvents (preferred access to events organized or sponsored by the Times), and TimesInsider (personal access to some Times writers). The pitch for Gold is “with NYT Gold, you won’t just read the Times, you’ll experience it.”

Silver and Gold sound like packages dreamed up by Times execs who were thinking, “how can we add a couple of layers to the free content we’re putting on the site, and make it look like something some people might pay for?”

And what they came up with was something that resembles how memberships are generally packaged at cultural non-profits like the museums, opera companies and symphony orchestras of New York City, which those Times are undoubtedly members of. As a museum member, you might get similar invitations to special events, admission to special exhibits, a chance to meet the curator, behind-the-scenes tours, discounts at the museum store, and so on.

But the Times is not a museum. It’s a business with customers. And rather than creating general access packages that are aimed at all of its customers, the Times should look at the many specific niche interests of its customers and offer packages aimed at as many of those niches as possible. Few people are willing to pay for broad news content, no matter who they get to rub shoulders with, but many people are willing to pay for content relevant to their passions. If the Times asked their customers about that, they’d find that frequent traveler might be willing to buy premium travel content; a film buff might pay for deeper movie content; an avid gardener might pay for specialized horticultural material. The Times should think about a suite of TimesChannels: TimesTravel, Times Tech, TimesGourmet, TimesDesign, TimesGarden, TimesArt, TimesFilm, TimesWeather, TimesPuzzles, TimesBooks, TimesPolitics, TimesFinance, TimesWhatever, each with much deeper content than the free website has, each priced at $50 a year, and each potentially capable of attracting an audience as large as TimesSilver or TimesGold might get.

My prior posts at NiemanLab

Friday, July 24, 2009

American Centinel: The first newspaper in Pittsfield, Mass.

For newspaper history buffs: Over on the blog of Pittsfield's Monday Evening Club, I've posted a 2003 presentation to the Club detailing the history of the first newspaper in Pittsfield, the American Centinel, of which only one copy is known to survive.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Texas Tribune buys Texas Weekly

Texas Tribune, the just-announced, well-funded nonprofit that plans to cover Texas politics and more starting in the fall, is wasting no time building up a team and incorporating institutional memory by acquiring Texas Weekly and naming its owner and editor, Ross Ramsey, managing editor of the Tribune. Among other things, the acquisition buys Texas Tribune a valuable content base — nearly two decades of electronic archives.

Texas Weekly is an online newsletter founded in 1984 focused on Texas government and politics. Most of its content is delivered to subscribers in a weekly emailed edition priced at $250. Current subscribers will “receive, for the duration of their subscriptions, a new weekly publication featuring premium content not available to regular readers of the Tribune.” (This suggests that Texas Tribune, also, could have in mind a premium content edition for paying subscribers, although founder John Thornton has been pretty negative about paywalls in the past.)

Along with the Texas Weekly purchase and the appointment of Ramsey, the announcement discloses the hiring of “the first five reporters on the Tribune’s newsroom team: Brandi Grissom, Elise Hu, Emily Ramshaw, Abby Rapoport, and Matt Stiles.” Bios are in the release here.

My prior posts at NiemanLab

Monday, July 13, 2009

How healthy are community papers? The sudden death of the Eagle Times

A scenic ride along the Connecticut River valley from my abode near Brattleboro, Vt., on the New Hampshire side of the valley, is the city of Claremont — a typical New England mill town with a population of 13,000, a regional hospital, a state college branch, a relatively sound local economy (unemployment rate of 6.0 percent), and until last Friday, a local daily newspaper with a circulation of about 7,800, the Eagle Times.

But on Thursday, Eagle Times owner and publisher Harvey Hill threw in the towel, after subsidizing losses in his operations to the tune of “seven figures”. He gathered his employees and announced that Eagle Publications was filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy (some were told by e-mail), that Friday’s edition of the paper would be its last, and that the company’s three weekly publications would not publish any more issues. Chapter 7 means the company is heading for liquidation, not reorganization. (Note: links to the newspaper’s web site may not last much longer.)

Locally, the big concern is what will move into the void. At least one entrepreneur has a plan. But more broadly, the big question is what the Claremont situation portends for small “community” newspapers — both weeklies and dailies — across the country. The conventional wisdom has been that it’s primarily the big metropolitan newspapers that are in trouble; that papers in smaller markets remain profitable, if less so than in the past.

An Inland Press Association study cited by Alan Mutter, the Newsosaur, in several recent posts suggests that papers under 15,000 in circulation have seen revenue grow slightly from 2004 to 2008, while suffering a 64.8% drop in profits. But the study is based on data from only 120 newspapers of all sizes, and may not have a representative sample of papers in any particular size group.

Continue reading this post at Nieman Journalism Lab.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Adiós, Gannett Blog; where are the rest of the watchblogs?

You have to admit, Gannett Blog kind of jumped the shark.

When Jim Hopkins got started with it, Gannett Blog was a useful compendium of news, gossip, tips and analysis about the country’s largest newspaper publishing company, and occasionally he would uncover something nobody else had noticed, like CEO Craig Dubow’s self-serving direction of $40,000 in Gannett Foundation money to an endowed scholarship, in his and his wife’s names, at Western Carolina University.

But lately the site has degenerated into a rather odd mix of self promotion, beefcake, travelogue from Ibiza, more beefcake, and a countdown toward oblivion, which is slated for Friday. Time’s running out! You have just two days left to comment!

Hopkins is redirecting his traffic to Gannettoid, which started up in December. Gannettoid is not a blog; its content lacks clear dates, so it’s not clear that it will be as useful to Gannettoids as Gannett Blog was, at least before it succumbed to self-admiration and hype. Until recently it lacked commenting, as well, but it has recently added a forum for discussion. Maybe it will get around to RSS, also.

Not every major newspaper group is favored with a meta-site where employees and others can get the latest news, leaks, gossip and analysis on their favorite company.

MediaNews groupies can turn to MediaNews Monitor, operated by the Newspaper Guild-CWA, which doesn’t do much reporting of its own, but links to stories and blog posts published elsewhere.

Read the rest of this post at Nieman Journalism Lab.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

If you were starting a news organization, where would you put your initial efforts?

I’m continuing my response to Phil Buckley’s excellent question: “If you were starting a news organization today, where would put your initial efforts?” (Previously)

A from-scratch news organization today would, of course, be an online-first enterprise. That doesn’t rule out print as a niche byproduct, but print would not be among the “initial efforts.” So let’s focus on digital strategies and tactics, beginning with the easier ones:

  • Even if you plan a print spinoff, like a weekly newspaper (or even a daily), lead with your dot-com brand. The URL should be the biggest thing on your business cards, your sales materials, the sign on your offices — everything.
  • Be clear about your geography. Every day I come upon local news sites with no indication what city or state they’re based in. (Where is this site published? Where in New Jersey is this one? Where in oil country is The Derrick? What’s so hard about adding “Lewiston, Maine,” “Newton, New Jersey,” or “Oil City, Pennsylvania”?) Remember that sites all over the world may link to your content. Tell those visitors where they’ve arrived.
  • Make it easy for people to reach you: publish a clear, accessible directory under “Contact Us,” with everyone’s e-mail, phone extension, cell phone and Twitter handle. Amazingly enough, some sites still omit “Contact Us” entirely. Others make it damned hard to find.
  • Include plenty of links in posts and stories, both inbound and outbound. It’s what makes the web go round.
  • Strongly encourage news staff to jump into comment threads and talk with readers. We do that here at NiemanLab, and it’s what turns commenting in conversation.
  • Strongly encourage news staff to Tweet and blog, as well.
Continue reading this post at Nieman Journalism Lab.