While wolfing down Fish and Chips at Penny Lane, the topic of conversation turned in a familiar direction. The discussion of the future viability of newspapers raised its hand, asking to be recognized yet again. This subject matter is far from academic in a market where the fate of a venerable 150 year old newspaper is far from certain.
The conversation reminded me of a recent article I had read about The Bakersfield Californian, which continues to lead in the nascent field of newspaper innovation. The Californian is experimenting with web-based niche publications. The paper launched Bakotopia.com, a local social media network designed to reach non-readers. The network has launched Bakotopia-The Magazine, published twice monthly and distributed to 20,000. The Californian has also launched Printcasting.com, which allows locals to publish their own on-line magazines. Other media companies are aggregating local content from a variety of sources and selling ads against that content.
Whether or not these efforts succeed is not the point. The fact that newspapers are trying to find new business models speaks volumes to their struggle to survive. Newspapers have been the poster child for how arrogance and inertia can kill a pillar of the community. There is a window of opportunity for change and innovation, but that window is closing.
I’ve blogged on this topic before and I believe that like the strategy adopted by The Californian, newspapers are in the best possible position to create social networks based on geography and they should attack this opportunity with gusto. There is a ton of local content available from websites and bloggers, just waiting to be aggregated and monetized.
I think that daily newsprint is short-lived and that dailies will go web-only, publishing and distributing paper versions a couple of times a week to accommodate advertisers who need physical delivery of their ads. Web-based papers should morph into news and social networking sites, creating conversations between the paper, advertisers and readers.
Conversations create relationships and building relationships is what media does best.