Why #newspapers should embrace the #Kindle


I’m a lifelong newspaper reader and a newspaper journalist. I have been leery in the past of technical trends, since I really hate investing in some new technical gadget only to get burned when it does not work. Last year I bought a solar charger for my cell phone, but it only charges the phone when I plug it into an outlet, not when I leave it exposed to the sun’s rays. So despite how much I love to read books, I held off on buying an ebook reader.

But I decided I could no longer stay on the ebook sidelines given the rapidly evolving dynamics of the newspaper industry (free Internet news, free Internet classifieds, young people turning elsewhere for news, etc.), leading to massive layoffs and smaller newspaper staffs. If I’m going to stay in journalism, I must embrace the changes. And newspapers must stay on top of technology, while not jumping on the technology bandwagon just because it’s cool. It must also make good business sense (some of my newsroom brethren may shy away from this conclusion, but the paper must make money to pay our salary).

Paywalls, or the practice of charging for news content, were a disaster for most general interest newspapers – it worked better for journals and other publishers of niche content. People had gotten used to reading free news on the Internet, and watching the television news. But there is some hope for newspapers. The popularity of ebook readers, starting with the Kindle, have gotten people used to using technology to download both free, classic books, and to buy more modern books for discounted prices (the discounted prices may or may not remain in force, but that topic is for another blog). Many of the large newspapers, from the Wall Street Journal to The New York Times, to regional papers like The Arizona Republic, have embraced the Kindle. The prices I have seen vary from $5.99 per month to $14.99 per month.

A Jan. 8, 2011, story on The (UK) Telegraph’s Web site says Sony has inked a deal with News Corp. to offer the Wall Street Journal and The New York Post on Sony’s Reader series of ebook readers. The Telegraph quotes Robert Thomson, the WSJ’s editor-in-chief, as saying the paper would earn a more favorable revenue cut than the 30 percent that Amazon.com pays content providers on average.

It would not seem ideal to sell a monthly subscription for as little as $5.99, since this is much lower than what a normal print subscription would cost. And ebook newspaper readers do not yet receive the advertisements available in print editions. But as more people use ebook readers, newspapers can start selling ebook-only ads to make up for some of the revenue. And receiving a cut of $5.99 or $14.99 per month is better than not receiving anything. Newspapers did not reach their recently departed financial glory days for many years.

Ebooks like the Kindle and tablet computers like the iPad are making people accustomed to paying for content once again, and hopefully can help newspapers regain some of their lost luster. Relying on this technology is not a perfect solution, but it’s preferable to burying our heads in the sand and hoping that news Web sites will sell enough ads to make up for lost ground.

The next blog: When a Kindle is not a Kindle – Read books on your mobile phone

Starfish-style challenges


What do you do when you’ve always charged for delivering a service or product and some Web site comes along and offers something much like it for free?

That’s been the question plaguing the music recording, news and software companies for some time.

I recently came across a book published in 2006 that takes a fascinating look at this phenomenon: “The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations,” by Ori Brafman and Rod A. Beckstrom. The authors take a look at movements/organizations that defy the traditional leadership model of “Who’s in charge?” Sometimes, no one is in charge. The Aztecs had Montezuma and a capital city, and were easily wiped out by the Spanish who killed the leader. The Apache had no centralized leader and no capital, and thus were better equipped to fight off attacks by armies from developed nations who looked for traditional targets to strike. But the book’s authors say that also describes the recording music industry’s attempts to fight off Napster: They effectively killed that one Web site, but their efforts antagonized people and spawned lots of imitators.

The authors write that Craigslist provided an unexpected challenge to the newspaper industry. Why pay for a newspaper classified when you can advertise a product for free all over the world? Likewise, why subscribe to a newspaper when you can read it for free online?

Newspapers learned to combine ad sales for print and online editions, as well as partnering with sites like CareerBuilder. After many newspapers dropped their attempts to subscriptions for stories, some organizations are taking a second look. My newspaper, The Daily Post-Athenian, already has returned to the online subscription model.

Platforms like the Kindle and the iPad hold out some hope of helping newspapers get digital media users accustomed to paying for content (the Wall Street Journal costs only $14.99 a month on the Kindle, and slightly more on the iPad).

Newspapers do not need the government’s ‘help’


The newspaper industry is facing perhaps its greatest threat in my lifetime. The Federal Trade Commission has drafted a document, “Potential Policy Recommendations to Support the Reinvention of Journalism,” which discusses the possibility of government involvement in newspapers. This document states ideas that have been proposed for government action that could “save” newspapers.

The document can be found here: http://www.ftc.gov/opp/workshops/news/jun15/docs/new-staff-discussion.pdf.

What are my initial reactions to this document?

First, it’s none of the government’s business how newspapers make (or don’t make) money. Do you enjoy it when your local paper reports politicians’ shenanigans such as wasting money, raising taxes, getting off on power trips or simply acting stupid? You can forget that happening if government money gets involved. Newspapers – especially in small towns — already fight a battle against giving in to advertisers’ pressure, whether it’s for photographing a silly ribbon-cutting or not running a story that might make an industry look bad. Can you imagine bureaucrats and image-crazed elected officials standing still for a newspaper shining the light of truth on their doings? I have witnessed a number of things at government meetings that officials would love to cover up, and government having fiduciary power over a newspaper will ensure that information never sees the light of day.

This document says to not worry about government funding for newspapers, drawing a comparison to public television funding. Well, I have news for them – public TV’s content is a controversial topic, and efforts have been made to censor it. Now imagine efforts being made to censor newspapers.

Nor are taxes an answer. Do you really want to pay taxes to support a private enterprise?

I trust the cleverness and experience of my colleagues to start making money once again from print advertising. People have been calling for the death of newspapers via the Internet for years now, as they once did with the advent of television news and before that, the advent of radio news.

Newspapers continue to make money, just not the glut of money they made in years past. Newspapers will change, but they will never die.

The government has absolutely no business being in the newspaper business, whether it’s in a form similar to public television or AmeriCorps. The Founding Fathers would spin in their graves if they knew about this government attempt to destroy the First Amendment.

The public can make comments here: http://public.commentworks.com/ftc/newsmediaworkshop/.

Fighting homesickness in the Czech Republic


These are some of the students I led in a group discussion on the newspaper industry at Univerzita Palackého v Olomouci.

These are some of the students I led in a group discussion on the newspaper industry at Univerzita Palackého v Olomouci.

The Bryan College MBA team is waiting for our Thursday flight out of Prague, pending no further problems from the volcano in Iceland. We’re hoping the EU opens airspace before that and starts to clear out the backlog of stranded fliers.  Our travel arrangements could change at any time, so stay posted to this blog for updates.

WRCB and WDEF profiled our team on the news Sunday.

Many in the group are worried about their jobs since our 10-day trip has now extended to 11+ days. And we all want so desperately to return home to family and friends. Prague is a beautiful city, but it’s not home. I headed out early to exchange some currency, explore the city and work on the computer – basically, just to get out of the hotel for a while to slow down the process of going stir crazy. We are blessed, though, to be staying at a nice hotel at a reasonable rate.

One of our students has a friend from Denmark who will be here in Prague today. I’m glad that they will be able to visit, since the volcano disrupted our student’s plans to visit Denmark on a side trip last week.

Despite the travel complications, this pilot program has worked out well. I don’t know what shape future Bryan College international internships will take, but this one has been worth the investment in time, money and effort.

I especially enjoyed interacting with students at Univerzita Palackého v Olomouci (Palacky’ University in Olomouc). I’ve posted a couple of photos of my students from that experience. I should have posted these photos sooner, but I’ve had Internet connectivity problems throughout this trip. I plan to post more photos soon.

%d bloggers like this: