Internet causing newspaper blindness!


The newspaper industry is in denial. It is myopic.

When I read the comments of newspaper man Rupert Murdoch and read the reports on the recent keynote speech by Mark Cuban in which he called Google a vampire that must be vanquished I cant help be reminded by the management thinker Theodore Levitt and his great HBR article Marketing Myopia which although written in the sixties has perfect applicability here. The death of newspapers is not the death of news, its just the death of news on paper.

Levitt was one of the founders of marketing as a concept and the key thesis of this article is that businesses and industries fail not because of a failure of the market but because of the failure of management. Management typically puts its own needs ahead of the needs of its customers, who because their needs are not being met move on and before long the industry is in decline, being replaced by another.

The classic is the story the demise of buggy whip manufacturers, who knows what would have happened if they had seen themselves in the transportation business.

Newspapers are dying not because people don’t want to read, because they don’t want news. Newspapers and book publishing are dying because there are better and lower cost ways of reading than ink on dead trees. In fact people are reading more and more, the massive growth of the Internet has actually translated into the fact that people are writing and reading more than they ever have – and its now much easier and cheaper to get the stuff to read.

If newspapers rethought their business and realised that they are not in the news on paper business but are in the news analysis business, or the news spreading business, or the entertainment business or the information business, they would see opportunity not problems.

The appropriate action is not to try to defend, because the forces are too big and inevitably the garrison will be overrun – the choice is to understand exactly what value you are bringing to customers and focus on that.

To borrow a thought from Seth Godin the art is not in the artifact, music is not vinyl or plastic so too is journalism and news not paper. The demise of newspapers will not bring an end to journalist – with more people reading I suspect the opposite.

NO we are not looking at the end of news, we are looking at less control in the news, cheaper news, more and wider analysis of the news, more people getting the news – we are looking at the golden era of news, of  journalism, of writing and of publishing.

. . . and of forests.

Photo Credit Greything

Posted on February 5, 2010 at 12:09 pm by Walter Pike · Permalink
In: Advertising, internet, Marketing · Tagged with: , ,
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  • Kenyan

    How does one ensure quality of news, truth, dedication to the writing craft and journalism as a viable source of income if one does not charge for it? There has to be a filter mechanism for the wheat and the chaff. What would you suggest for this?

    • Walter Pike

      I would like to answer that on two levels.

      Firstly since when were we ensured truth and quality by paying for it? do you believe that there has never been bias in journalism or that editorial choice has not biased the news?

      Secondly I am not saying for a minute that it all need be free.

      I am suggesting the newspapers think about what their customers will pay for and charge for that.

      There are bloggers making good incomes without hiding behind paywalls for example, they are distributing the news. Just recently Techcrunch fired a writer for daring to ask for a benefit for writing a favorable review.

      The kindle and the apple bookstore are due to make much more money for writers and journalists at $9.90 a book, than the minute share that writers get of the price of the printed version, one of the reasons is that because of cheaper distribution the market has exploded.

      I am not trying to solve the newspaper problem, there are many with much more experience than I, what I am saying and it applies to all businesses is that you will not solve it if you try to build walls, or focus on production – you will solve it if you focus on what the customer wants.

      If you are a journalist with integrity, passion and commitment, start a blog. I wont pay for the news that I can get anywhere (even real time if “dirty” on twitter) I will pay for insightful analysis. You can sell advertising at a place where people go to to get insightful analysis.

      But i am sure that there are many smarter people than I who will find the solutions – but the Murdoch paywalls (which may work in certain circumstances) and Cubans vilification of google is not the solution.

      The key is to put your customers needs first. The essence of what marketing is all about.

      With everyone reading I am suggesting that quality writing is now in more demand than ever before.

  • Walter Pike

    On my facebook update that promoted this post I had a number of comments, most of whom seemed to deny that newspapers are in decline. Although I would rather they joined the conversation here I have no control of that.

    But that not the point – I don't which to debate whether newspapers are in decline – but rather the approach taken by their management to ensure survival.

    • Walter Pike

      and I just found this short very short riff from @garyvee on what it take to be a linchpin – its absolutely relevant here. He did it for Seth Godin's Linchpin

  • HowieG

    My first comment on your blog!!!
    Walter there is 2 main issues of why newspapers are dying.
    1] Competition. In the US most major cities used to have 1-2 major papers. And that is it. Now we can read news from every newspaper world wide online (and TV station etc). So in reality while before the internet most cities whittled down to the 1-2 papers because most markets could not support more than that. Now we have 100's!I used to get the LA Times delivered. They had no competition. Now I read about 9-10 newspapers/news sources online everyday. So yes your point is correct more not less news being read. We need less news outlets (consolidation)
    2] Is digital Ads. They are very versatile and very blockable. Firefox does a great job doing this. 22% of th US browser market is Firefox and there are 850,000 downloads of the ad blocking software. This software even blocks Google paid search results! And when in the past I paid for a static print ad in a multi-section paper and paid for the total circulation number praying someone sees it, now Advertisers pay for click. I used to read Business and Sports mostly so for the most part Advertisers still paid to reach me via print even though they wasted their money if they were in other sections. Now with PPC they only pay for the people viewing that section…or even page which is sharply lower revenue. I actually think Papers should of stuck with static ads like PDF so they can't be blocked.
    Just those 2 issues themselves are enough to sink I high overhead newspaper.
    Cheers Howie @SkyPulseMedia

    • Walter Pike

      Yeah. Good points.

      My point is that they have to reinvent themselves and not just try to protect themselves.

      Printing is a technology – like a horse and carriage

  • Chenka

    Great article. Everything will have to be re-thought. Movies, music, books. I am constantly surprised when I read a great book and go to the authors website but only to find nothing more than a short bio. Not even a newsletter to sign up to. I am left to do my own research on the info presented in the book when all the author had to do was to have this info on their site. A missed opportunity in my opinion to build a relationship with a potential fan of the author.