Tuesday, December 16, 2008

An imperfect solution in Detroit

The announcements now being made in Detroit appear to confirm the earlier rumors:

Changes due to occur in first quarter 2009 include:
  • Expanding digital information channels that provide news and information to a variety of audiences when, where and how they want it.

  • Limiting newspaper home delivery to Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays while selling printed copies at newsstand seven days a week.

  • Providing subscribers daily access to electronic editions, exact copies of each day's printed newspapers.

It's not the best solution, I think. While managers told an employee meeting there would be tens of millions of dollars in savings (stemming from about 200 job cuts, newsprint savings and distribution savings), it keeps in place two separate press runs on most days while failing to differentiate the two papers more clearly. And implementation will be a nightmare, I'm afraid.

The plan looks like a compromise between the status quo and a real rationalization of the market, which had been my suggestion last week. I put forward a Thursday-Friday-Sunday Free Press coupled with a Monday-Friday News distributed free. Advantages: fewer press runs, two distinct missions and markets, greater circulation during the week, and easier to implement.

Either scenario would, by design, push more readers to electronic editions. Given the findings of a just-released Gannett poll tracking consumer news preferences, that's a good strategy, although it will get fierce resistance from many, particularly older readers. The graph posted by Paul Gillin from this poll shows that a year from now, the Internet will surpass local newspapers as a daily news source. (And local newspapers have been behind local TV news for a long time.) Better for newspapers to go with that trend, by adopting online-first strategies, than to continue trying to fight it. That seems to be the plan in Detroit, whatever the imperfections of the print distribution scheme.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Martin -

Thanks for adding your thoughtful comments to this issue.

I am not familiar with the Detroit market, but as we do our re-envisioning efforts now, for implementation in early 2009, we are closely watching.

I was also interested in Steve Outing's comment, after his post at http://steveouting.com/2008/12/16/detroit-goes-with-the-thurs-fri-sun-print-edition-model/

What I want to see as a “bold” plan by a major newspaper is to make the print edition actually train print readers that they can rely on the newspaper brand either online or on the phone in their pockets to get up to the minute news. So I’m looking for someone to publish a print edition that gets treated as a table of contents to digital offerings. I’ve yet to see anyone do more than play lip service to this with their print editions. Frankly, I’d love to have a newspaper to experiment on to take into the digital age fully. The publisher would have to give up the notion of print-first entirely and allow it to become a blatant promotional vehicle for all the amazing digital services that the brand is creating. For those still wanting nothing more than the paper, it would still serve that purpose. But even those old-time (dying-off) print die-hards would be continually trained about all that’s wonderful online and with mobile. Because thinning print editions, the result of continued staff cutbacks, won’t be enough to keep all the old-timers continuing to pay their subscription invoices.

Thanks for all you do!